Would you believe me if I told you that the Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best secondaries in the league? Perhaps you wouldn’t be open to hearing that right now given how the entire defense performed the last time that they took the field—and given the significant stage on which it took place—but that is the case that Pro Football Focus is making.
In a season review ranking of all of the secondaries in the NFL, the site placed the Steelers third on the list, behind only the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers, and finishing ahead of the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens, who round out the top five. Anthony Treash writes:
Pittsburgh’s 41.7% successful pass-play rate ranked first in the NFL this season. Very few quarterbacks found success against the Steelers’ secondary when throwing deep. The unit allowed just a 45.9 passer rating on throws over 10 yards downfield (second-best).
Joe Haden and Steven Nelson were quality starters on the outside, as they ranked 24th and 39th, respectively, among 93 qualifying outside corners in coverage grade. However, the backbone of the unit’s success came elsewhere. Cameron Sutton and Mike Hilton played nearly equal snaps in the slot and came away ranking third and seventh, respectively, among 40 qualifiers in coverage grade at the position. Minkah Fitzpatrick also provided standout play on the back-end with the third-best coverage grade among deep safeties.
It’s interesting to note that Cameron Sutton graded so highly in coverage, though also not shocking. The problem is that he is better in coverage and could use improvement elsewhere in his game, while Mike Hilton is the reverse. Both are free agents as well. If the Steelers could find a way to combine the two and sign that one amalgamation, they might have the best nickel back in the NFL.
Of course, the unnamed starter in the group is Terrell Edmunds, on whom fans love to dump. While he doesn’t appear to be on the trajectory of developing into a budding Pro Bowler, he has certainly made progress over the course of his three years, and even managed a couple of interceptions in 2020.
Both Edmunds and Fitzpatrick are under contract for 2021, with the fifth-year option on the table, though Edmunds is unlikely to have his picked up. Both Nelson and Haden are only under contract through the 2021 season.