In the era of football as it’s currently constructed, particularly with regard to the salary cap and contract structures, it has become virtually impossible for anybody to field a ‘complete’ team. There is going to be a weakness somewhere important, even if that weakness is in lacking quality depth, which basically always is a factor at some point during the year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly are not a team without flaws, even though they have the only flawless record in the NFL at 6-0. Devin Bush’s injury saw to it that that would definitely be the case. Depth at offensive line took a hit with Zach Banner’s injury as well. The punting game was so suspect that they flipped back to Jordan Berry.
But according to Pro Football Focus, they should be regarded as the frontrunners in the AFC, because they do have one spot on the team that is simply dominant, and that is their defensive line, consisting of T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Bud Dupree.
“And as it stands right now, there’s no more dominant unit in the NFL than the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ defensive line”, writes Michael Renner. “Because of it, they’re not only a threat to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC; they should be considered the favorite in the conference”.
Having a winning quarterback is obviously essential, and even if the site is not so high on Ben Roethlisberger’s performance overall, they recognize that, at least outside of the last game, he is protecting the football, making good decisions, and getting the ball out quickly. If you have the quarterback, then the next-best thing to have is a defensive front.
“The thing about a dominant defensive line is that not only does it impact the passing game, but it can also single-handedly shut down a running game”, Renner added. “Ask any defensive coordinator and they’ll tell you that forcing teams to become one-dimensional is the goal. The Steelers do that simply through talent, and then at that point, they give their defensive line freedom to attack”.
This is what they have been able to do for the past two weeks against the Cleveland Browns and the Tennessee Titans, two five-win teams, one a division-leader and the other a team that would be winning in several other divisions if not for playing in the best division in the league.
“So far this season, they’ve run some form of stunt on 20.3% of the pass plays they’ve faced. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have run more so far”, he notes. “The result has been a league-leading 46.2% pressure rate that blows away every other team in the league. The difference between them and second place is the same difference between second and eighth place”.
The Steelers lead the NFL with 26 sacks, which is four more than any other team that hasn’t already played an extra game. They have put pressure on everybody. They still have a lot to clean up, but keeping quarterbacks uncomfortable is the best trait you can have short of a comfortable quarterback, and they have that, too.