There is a trend that has been building for a number of years on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s increasing speed. Virtually every position on the field has had to undergo an evolution over the course of the past couple of decades to become more athletic.
Instead of Casey Hampton at nose tackle, you now have Javon Hargrave as the archetype. Instead of James Farrior at linebacker, you have Ryan Shazier, and now Devin Bush. Granted, the secondary has always prioritized athleticism, but the general trend has been clear.
“I think the keyword is speed. We’re very fast, and you have guys that have been in the system a few times now”, T.J. Watt said last week about the development the defense has made over the course of the past seasons or so.
“The guy inside, Devin, has been in the system for a full year, it’s his second year now. Just being able to play a lot faster, and play off of each other”, he continued. “Getting Tuitt back in the fold is big-time for us up front. This is my fourth year with him, so just knowing how we play off each other in the pass-rushing and run-stopping and all that stuff, we’re just going to be a very fast defense. We’re going to have great pursuit and we’re going to get the ball out”.
Watt is, of course, a part of that trend toward more athletic players. The Steelers used to draft undersized ends to convert into stand-up pass-rushing ends. More recently, starting with Jarvis Jones in 2013, they have preferred to draft players who played standing up in college, with Anthony Chickillo, for example, being an exception.
According to early training camp reports, and even from Ben Roethlisberger himself, the defense was smothering during competitive periods. When the quarterback was asked which side of the ball was winning, he just had a simple one-word response: defense.
And the sheer team speed that they possess, from Watt and Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt up front to Bush at the second level to Minkah Fitzpatrick and company on the back end, it’s become very difficult to get anything past the Steelers.
They were among the best defenses in the league last season in preventing big plays, both through the air and on the ground as well. They are a sideline-to-sideline unit that will string you out so far wide that you’ll be stuck running out of bounds.
The New York Giants, let’s hope, will learn that firsthand tonight. They have some talented skill position players, no doubt, such as Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, and they will test this defensive speed, but I think they will be up to the challenge when all is said and done.