By now, anybody who pays attention to football knows that the Pittsburgh Steelers are coming into the 2020 season projected to have one of the best defenses in the league. After all, they finished in the top five in a lot of the major defensive metrics last year, led the league in takeaways, and have finished first in sacks in three consecutive seasons.
Just how good are they, though, exactly? According to Adam Schein, they’re fourth-best heading into the season. He projects the Los Angeles Chargers, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, to have the top defense in the league, followed by the Buffalo Bills in second, and then the San Francisco 49ers. He writes on the Steelers’ defense:
This defense is so consistent and sturdy all around. No one embodies this more than 10th-year veteran Cam Heyward, who definitely deserves a new contract. I voted him first-team All-Pro last season, an honor that he did indeed receive for the second time in the past three years. Meanwhile, splash-play extraordinaire T.J. Watt was just named first-team All-Pro, as well, racking up 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 36 QB hits. With Stephon Tuitt returning from injury and Bud Dupree looking to earn big bucks while on the franchise tag, Pittsburgh’s defensive front is quite a collection of talent.
On the second level, second-year linebacker Devin Bush is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. He was put on planet Earth to be a Steelers linebacker. And in the back end, Minkah Fitzpatrick outstripped all expectations after his midseason trade from Miami, becoming the third member of this defense to nab first-team All-Pro honors in 2019. And with experience in Pittsburgh’s system, he’s primed to be even better in 2020, which is scary.
The Steelers were the only defense in the league last season to have three players named to the All-Pro team, whether first- or second-team, and all three of theirs were represented on the first team, those individuals being Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
With Fitzpatrick and Steven Nelson being added last year, the secondary really took itself to a level that we haven’t seen in some time in Pittsburgh, including the ability to make plays. Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden between themselves accounted for 10 interceptions, the first time since 2000 that two Steelers each recorded at least five interceptions in a single season.
The front four of Watt, Heyward, Bud Dupree, and Stephon Tuitt is just as vital, of course, and then you have the rising Devin Bush, coming off a successful rookie season in which he topped 100 tackles and recorded six takeaways. The sky is the limit for him, but this is the season in which this unit has to make it all count, especially with Dupree likely to be gone after this season.