The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The secondary will produce 10-plus interceptions again in 2020.
Explanation: It has seemingly become a rare feat for the Steelers defense as a whole to come down with 10 interceptions, let alone seeing the secondary do it alone. But they had 10 last year just between Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden, and there’s clearly room for more.
Both Haden and Fitzpatrick are proven playmakers, and with the continued consistent pass rush and general stability of the newly-formulated secondary, they should continue to get their opportunities. Haden struggled to capitalize on the ones that came his way in 2018—he was down on himself for the ones he dropped—but he worked on that this offseason. Frankly, it wouldn’t be surprising if the two of them alone again combine for 10 interceptions. Fitzpatrick stated his goal as six or seven on his own.
And we know that Steven Nelson can contribute more. He’s not happy that he only picked off one pass last season. He should be at least a three- or four-interception guy, and Mike Hilton is good for two or three as well. Cameron Sutton will have a role this year, and he can get around the ball, so he will add one or two.
The key for me is the fact that these defenders are getting closer to the ball, and they’re creating opportunities for one another. In the secondary alone, they had five or six interceptions that came off of deflections.
As always, past results do not predict future performance. In 2018, the secondary had a whopping six interceptions between five players. They did have 11 in 2017, including one apiece from Coty Sensabaugh, Robert Golden, and J.J. Wilcox. Despite having three picks from Artie Burns in 2016, they again had only six as a group.
Going back over the past decade, they have had more seasons with fewer than 10 secondary interceptions, and in 2010, they only had 11 as a group when Troy Polamalu got seven on his own. This is clearly a more talented group overall than what they’ve had for most of the past decade, but takeaways are among the less predictable results, and in a weird year like this, who knows what will actually happen.