It cannot be denied that, when the Steelers have been at their best in recent years—and throughout most of their history—it has been when their defense was the driving force. Now, that doesn’t mean that the offense doesn’t have to pitch in, but a top-five defense has been at the core of the majority of their Super Bowl runs.
Now for the first time in about a decade, give or take, they have that top-five defense again. They have All-Pros on all three levels of the defense, and a great supporting cast all around them. Depth might be thin or untested in certain areas, but they certainly have plenty of defensive linemen—and even cornerbacks, of all things.
And they return, sans only Javon Hargrave, to support Ben Roethlisberger after the future Hall of Famer more or less missed the 2019 season. That has many excited about what they can do, including Pro Football Talk, whose Mike Florio and Chris Simms discussed the team’s return to a defensive identity.
“This is a really good defense. This is a defense that could win games almost by itself. It’s Super Bowl-caliber that way, along with a creative scheme”, Simms said. “That’s when you go, ooh, a defense could be special. It’s got talent, and a scheme that can change, and is malleable on a week-to-week basis. That’s when I go, watch out for that defense this year, and I think that’s what we should be saying about the Steelers”.
Though innovated by Dick LeBeau, the Steelers continue to employ the zone blitz, and have been aggressive with their inside linebackers in particular. With Vince Williams on the field more and Devin Bush having a season under his belt, expect them to ratchet it up further in 2020.
With Hargrave gone, they should only more and more resemble a 4-2-5 defense, something that Simms also talked about. “We’ve seen a little bit of that transition the last two years. And the big point is, base defense is just not played that often in the NFL anymore”, he said.
“I bet you the Steelers probably played more base defense against the Baltimore Ravens in those two games than they did against the rest of the NFL maybe the whole combined year, because there’s very few teams that are constantly in those heavy personnel sets, two tight ends, three tight ends”.
The Ravens set an NFL rushing record last season, but they are largely an anomaly in today’s game, and they are unlikely to repeat that feat. Of course it will vary from game to game, as to what defenses they will have to deploy.
But this team more than any in the past decade is equipped to face up against whatever is thrown at them. They’re even working on making adjustments to offensive audibles, which in my opinion is the final step toward their becoming a legitimately elite and potential fearsome unit.