The league-wide salary cap situation dealt no favors to Pittsburgh Steelers this year. One can certainly argue that it cost them some of their effectiveness as a defense to rush the passer. Not only did they lose one of their primary rushers in Bud Dupree, they also lost two starting cornerbacks, which will have the consequence of allowing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball more quickly, and thus giving rushers less time to get into the backfield.
Nevertheless, they still have a lot talent up front, in fact some of the best front-four defenders in the league. That starts with T.J. Watt, of course, who has been in hot contention for the Defensive Player of the Year Award for two years running. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are also proven rushers along the defensive line.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Watt and Tuitt are two of the best pass rushers in the league when it matters most: In the red zone. In a recent article examining which players were most effective rushing the passer in different contexts, the two Steelers were named as runners-up to Washington’s Chase Young as the best in that area, with Ben Linsey writing the following:
Young’s 92.0 pass-rushing grade narrowly edged out two members of a talented Steelers pass rush: Watt and Tuitt. Watt and Tuitt’s contributions were a big reason why Pittsburgh had by far the league’s highest pressure rate in the red zone as a team. The Steelers generated pressure on 60.0% of their pass-rushing snaps in the red zone over the regular season. Washington sat in second at 39.3%.
Those two defensive fronts will be at the forefront of the conversation for the league’s best again in 2021.
Of course, the Steelers excelled as pressure unit in virtually every metric, even if they didn’t have any one player singled out in this article. They certainly had their fair share of team success getting after the passer on third downs, for example, which helped them finish with the fifth-best third-down conversion rate in the league. They also ranked first on fourth downs, and sixth in the red zone.
This should serve as a reminder that the focus on the defense should be less on what they have lost, but rather more on what they have. They still have phenomenal talents like Watt and Tuitt, not to mention Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Devin Bush, who are going to continue to cause problems for offenses this season and for seasons to come. None of those players are going anywhere for a while, perhaps not until they retire.