The Pittsburgh Steelers, through a variety of means, lost a lot of players over the course of the past year. Gone are numerous starters and key role players, from Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro to Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Steven Nelson, and Vince Williams.
I don’t know about you, but the team sure could have used at least a couple of those guys this year, especially on defense. Two of their biggest losses, the cornerback Hilton and the outside linebacker Dupree, will be squaring off this weekend with their new teams for the right to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
And they’re certainly aware of that. Aditi Kinkhabwala says that they’ve spoken, as you would expect—they were teammates for four-plus years, after all—and that they plan to exchange jerseys after the game—his for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Dupree’s for the Tennessee Titans.
Former #Steelers Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton meet in the #Titans–#Bengals divisional round Saturday. And yes, Mike said they’ve talked, and yes, Bud has already told him they need to do a postgame jersey swap. #oldfriends
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 19, 2022
Dupree signed one of the biggest deals of unrestricted free agency, in spite of the fact that he was rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered late in the 2020 season. It definitely affected his performance and availability this past year, finishing with just three sacks, though one of those three was against the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
Likewise, Hilton got his first career pick six off of Roethlisberger in one of the Steelers’ two games against the Bengals, so losing these two players certainly hurt Pittsburgh in very direct ways—by enabling them to make plays against their former team.
Not that they would have easily been able to retain either one, with Dupree pretty much not even having been an option to consider. But the fact of the matter is that they were made a worse team in the absence of players such as them.
Especially against the run. Both Hilton and Dupree were among the team’s top run defenders, as was Williams, who decided to retire just before the start of training camp. While the injuries to Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu were devastating to the run defense, to lack three critical second-level run defenders was a compounding and catastrophic factor.
In spite of the fact that they’ve changed their stripes, however, I remain a ‘fan’ of both Dupree and Hilton as individuals and wish to see them succeed—provided that it doesn’t come at the Steelers’ expense. I don’t intend to speak for the entire fanbase, but I will be pleased to see one of them advance to within one game of competing for a Super Bowl, just as I was happy for Emmanuel Sanders when he got his ring.