Just how good is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive front this year? well, the reality is that no other team really comes close. You have some individual standout stars on other groups, such as Myles Garrett for the Cleveland Browns, Aaron Donald for the Los Angeles Rams, and Khalil Mack for the Chicago Bears, but the Steelers basically have an entire front four consisting of dominant players.
In fact, in a recent article for the league’s website, Nick Shook put together a list of the league’s top 10 most disruptive defenders—and three members of the Steelers’ front four made it. all of them were in the top seven, even, and the one who wasn’t included, Cameron Heyward, has already established himself as more than capable of playing at that level.
T.J. Watt was the first Steeler on the list, to nobody’s surprised, listed second behind only Garrett. Shook writes of the inevitable All-Pro:
T.J. owns the best disruption rate on this list at over 22 percent. And don’t be fooled into discounting his impact because of his relatively low total of pass-rush snaps (seventh on this list), or because he often lines up alongside Bud Dupree (who also appears here). In fact, Watt’s productivity on that snap count is a sign of his incredible efficiency — consider that he’s also registered 38 QB pressures for a rate of 19.1 percent. The only reason Watt isn’t ranked above Garrett is because he has yet to force a turnover on a pressure. Still, Watt’s sack total (6.5) proves he’s getting to the quarterback enough to make a difference. When combined with his disruption rate and the fact he’s the only player in the NFL with six-plus run stuffs (defined as a tackle in which the ball-carrier gains less than 2 yards; Watt has 8) and 30-plus pressures (38), it’s clear he’s one of the most impactful defenders around.
Bud Dupree was the next Steeler on the list, checking in at five, impressively. The only players ranked in between him and Watt were Donald at three and Shaquil Barrett at four. Shook writes:
Bud Dupree and Joey Bosa have nearly identical numbers, but what gets Dupree over the hump here is his ability to finish his disruptions in the best way possible: by causing a turnover. Dupree has forced three turnovers on his QB pressures and has recorded six sacks as part of a defensive front that has combined to record 24 sacks through seven games. The Steelers blitz with what some might see as reckless abandon (on 42.5 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the NFL), but it works for them: They’ve pressured opposing quarterbacks 109 times this season, the most in the NFL. That is largely due to the contributions of Dupree, the second-best disruptor on Pittsburgh’s stellar defense.
After Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers, Stephon Tuitt got his place on the list, ranked seventh. Carl Lawson, Mack, and Emmanuel Ogbah finished off the list. Shook wrote of Tuitt, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week:
Stephon Tuitt is the third and final Steeler on this list — and as a 3-4 defensive end, he’s facing a tougher pass-rushing challenge than outside linebackers Watt and Dupree. While Watt and Dupree enjoy one-on-one matchups at times, Tuitt is more frequently fighting through traffic to get to his target. Even so, he’s posted 30 disruptions and a disruption rate that puts him in the same neighborhood as edge rushers like Dupree, Bosa and Barrett. Tuitt’s greatest statistical weakness on this list is that he has yet to cause a turnover with pressure, though his six sacks have him on par with Dupree.
Shook does raise an important point here, which is that the Steelers have been suspiciously unsuccessful in producing even loose balls, let alone recovered fumbles, with their pass rush. Even though they lead the league with 30 sacks, Dupree is the only one to force a fumble—two—and he also caused an interception. That is the final piece missing from the front four this year: the takeaway pass rush.