After a rough start to the 2019 regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense quickly gelled starting in Week3. That gelling coincided with the arrival of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick via a Week 3 trade and from that point forward the Steelers defense was one of the top five units in the NFL, and especially against the pass. Steelers outside linebacker T.J Watt played a big part in making the Steelers defense great in 2019 and on Tuesday he was a guest on SiriusXM NFL Radio and discussed not only what led to the unit being so good last season, but his outlook for the unit in 2020 as well.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people like to bring in when Minkah [Fitzpatrick] was able to come in the back end and kind of solidify our defense and we kind of brought him in with stride,” Watt said. “And just being able to have that extra half-a-second, quarter-second, whatever it takes, to be able to get to the passers, as a pass rush guy, we welcome that with open arms. And you think about getting a guy like Stephon Tuitt back at the beginning of this upcoming season, I think the sky’s the limit for our defense and I really like the guys that we have in the locker room and we’re just going to continue to grow off each other and build that off the field comradery to make us better.”
The Steelers defense should indeed be just as potent in 2020 as the unit was in 2019 as essentially just two players, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and inside linebacker Mark Barron, are the only two that played considerably last season that won’t be back this upcoming season. Additionally, like Watt was smart to point out in his response, the Steelers figure to have defensive end Stephon Tuitt back healthy again in 2020. Tuitt, who was arguably one of the Steelers top two or three defensive players last season through the team’s first five games, suffered a season-ending pectoral injury early in the team’s Week 6 road game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
While the Steelers defense won’t have the usual offseason OTA and mandatory minicamp practices to help the unit gel and work out their kinks this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, Watt doesn’t see that as being that big of an issue due to so many of last season’s players being back in 2020.
“Yeah, of course and I think everybody in the National Football League would love to have more practice as much as we possibly can,” Watt said on Tuesday. “And as a defensive player, we do a lot of reacting so we can’t go out there and get as many guys we can and go to the park and practice running routes and pulling around the corner and blocking certain guys. We just have to react. So, we don’t really get that luxury, but it just comes down to discipline and trying to really trust that each and every guy’s watching as much film as they can and they’re staying ready so we don’t have to get ready once we all can finally get out to Pittsburgh and have everybody in a practice setting.
While it might not seem like a big deal that the Steelers 2020 defense will include quite a few carryovers from 2019, it really is with the entire NFL offseason being wiped out by the pandemic. Assuming the Steelers defense isn’t hit with injuries early and often, that unit should be expected to have a much better start than they did in 2019.
“But like I said, we were a very young team last year defensively, specifically, and we’re just gonna continue to gel together,” Watt said. “And, I mean this is Blitzburgh, man, we send the heat a lot. We’re very comfortable with it. I don’t see us shying away from it at all. We’re very good in our disguises and as we grow together, we’re only going to get better.”