2021 South Side Questions: Will Reinforcements Cure What’s Ailing Defense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: Will defensive reinforcements save the day?

The Steelers just gave up the most points they’ve allowed in the regular in about three and a half years, and that was to a true juggernaut offense at that time, who seemed to be doing that to everybody on a weekly basis. The Los Angeles Chargers are a good young team, but you expect to be able to hold them to under 30, at a bare minimum, if you consider yourself a good team.

Pittsburgh allowed 41, instead, including a last-minute touchdown off of a blown communication on the back end, allowing for a 53-yard go-ahead touchdown that would prove to be the game winner. But one can’t help but think about the absences out there.

For example, free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick normally would have been in the role that rookie seventh-round pick Tre Norwood played on the aforementioned play. Norwood has played well this year, but he’s not a two-time first-team All-Pro free safety.

And any game without T.J. Watt is going to be a slog in comparison to what it’s like with him. The coaches had to flip Alex Highsmith to the other side just to get him off of Rashawn Slater at left tackle to get any pressure. Watt could have worn right tackle Storm Johnson like a hat.

Add guys like Ahkello Witherspoon playing because Joe Haden was out, and you have less than ideal circumstances. But how much of a difference will getting those players back make? I think that’s the question a lot of Steelers fans are asking right now. Yeah, it’s three Pro Bowlers you’re getting back, including two of the very best at their position, but is it enough? Hopefully we can get the answer next week.

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