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 Steelers’ run defense is the real deal.
Explanation: Through the first three weeks of the season, nobody has played run defense as well as the Steelers. They average under 60 yards allowed per game, 2.7 yards per carry, with just one touchdown, and a multitude of negative plays. But is this a sample size error or can they sustain this level of play as the best or near-best in the NFL throughout the year?
Just in case you’re forgetting, the Steelers already had one of the best run defenses in the NFL last season. They allowed just 3.8 yards per carry all season, and that ranked third in the NFL. They also allowed the 14th-most total yards despite facing the sixth-most carries.
In other words, the first three games of the 2020 season are merely a continuation of the success that they were having against the run throughout last year. They have some great run defenders on the perimeter in Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, while Vince Williams has been a true run-stuffer, and Tyson Alualu has been a revelation since having moved to nose tackle this season. His strength had always been his run defense, but who knew he was a two-gapping nose tackle?
There are 10 teams allowing under four yards per carry this season. Only six did last year, and the lowest was 3.3. If the Steelers were to finish at 2.7 yards per carry, that would be a real anomaly. It’s fair to speculate that the nature of the offseason and lack of preseason is having an effect on offenses’ ability to get the running game going early to start this season.
Take the Giants, for example. They were starting a rookie at left tackle, and a center who never played center before. They left Dupree unblocked numerous times, without any 2020 scouting available to them. Bottom line, there are going to be a lot of things about 2020 in the early goings that will be anomalous, like Russell Wilson’s passing touchdowns and the Seattle Seahawks’ passing yards allowed, both the most ever through three games.