There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense as they head into the 2020 season, and rightfully so. They were the only team last season to have three players named to the first-team All-Pro team on that side of the ball, for example, and all three of those players are not only still here, but also in the prime of their careers.
There is added excitement and anticipation simply because of the fact that great defenses in Pittsburgh have been strongly correlated with championships. Chuck Noll’s first two titles in particular in the 70s rode the momentum of the Steel Curtain. Bill Cowher and then Mike Tomlin in 2005 and 2008 brought talented defenses to the promised land as well.
Many believe that this defense in 2020 can be the best that the Steelers have had since at least that 2008 season, and on paper, it sounds about right. You have your star safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick, your premiere pass rusher in T.J. Watt and his strong complement with Bud Dupree, a great linebacker in Devin Bush. On the front, you have Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. And the cornerback duo may be even better than they had back then.
So what are Mike Tomlin’s thoughts on how this unit stacks up against them? As you might have guessed, he has none.
“Legendary defenses make their mark over the long haul, and particularly as it pertains to the playoffs and dominance through that run”, he said on the Mike Tomlin Show. “By no means do I intend to put this group in the company of some of those others. This group hasn’t left the station yet. Some of those others delivered the goods, and delivered the goods on the big, international stages”.
“Hopefully this groups develops and has an opportunity to maybe be comparable and to answer some of those questions”, he continued, “but as we sit here today, it’s just not fair to them to put them in the company of some of those legendary defenses that did what they did in late January and the first of February, and that’s where those discussions belong”.
The Steelers are typically not the sort of team that likes to play along with the preseason hype game, perhaps partly because they already have a long history of past successes to fall back on, so they don’t need to trump up what they currently have.
But while Tomlin may not talk about this unit, everybody on the outside seems to be. This unit can be really, really good. Of course anything can happen, and as they say, that’s why they play the game. But it’s hard to foresee this not being one of the top units in football if they stay healthy.