The Pittsburgh Steelers developed into one of the best defenses in the NFL last season, and it wasn’t by coincidence. They put in major resources into the defensive side of the ball. Last offseason alone, they acquired four new starters in Steven Nelson, Devin Bush, Mark Barron, and Minkah Fitzpatrtick, and three of them return in 2020. Only Barron and Javon Hargrave are not returning among significant defensive contributors from last season’s roster.
That more than anything is why the Steelers are so high on their potential for defensive success this season, and their potential to be even better. Maybe they won’t get the same number of turnovers, or lead the league in that department, but plain and simple, they will stop offenses and keep them from scoring, especially when the game is on the line. Or so is their intention.
According to Nelson, there is one thing above all else that they can work to improve upon from last season that would aid them in their quest to play even better defense in 2020 than they did last year, when they finished among the top five in most traditional defensive metrics.
“I think one thing we can always improve on is communication”, he told reporters while at training camp yesterday. “We lacked that a little bit last year, even though we had great numbers and were able to have a successful defense in some people’s eyes. Like I said, we can always improve communication, and I feel like it’s very key to be a great defense overall”.
Given the number of new pieces, especially the late addition of Fitzpatrick, it’s not altogether surprising that there may have been some lapses in communication on the defensive side of the ball. One of the reasons that Dick LeBeau’s defense was capable of being as complicated as it was is because the guys running it spent years learning and understanding it, so whenever you bring in somebody new, it adds to the complications.
This year, the Steelers are not adding any prominent pieces, at least in terms of starters. The player most likely to contribute a relatively significant amount who is new to the team would be Chris Wormley, who is a fourth-year veteran and would at best serve as the number three, rotational defensive end behind Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
Communication is most important in the secondary, and this particular group is now going into its second year together. It’s also the second year for Teryl Austin, who was brought in as a senior defensive assistant in 2019 with an emphasis on the secondary.
Even considering the fact that they did not have an in-person Spring offseason, they should still have the opportunity to strengthen their communication pathways heading into the 2020 season, and Bush can be an important voice in that role this year.