With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers will have a top-10 run defense again with the return of a healthy front seven.
Explanation: The Steelers played nearly the entirety of the 2021 season without two of their best run defenders in Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt. Both are expected to be back this year, though the latter is less certain. They also played with their top inside linebacker, Devin Bush, making his way back from a torn ACL, and with Joe Schobert freshly acquired.
This is a defense on the cusp of something. They have their blue-chip players in T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Heyward, and they’ll be in a much more settled unit than last season. They’ve also better insulated themselves along the defensive line. After last season, that feels pretty important to mention.
Devin Bush was one of the worst linebackers in all of football last season. This year, he’ll either be better or he’ll be on the bench. And with a more athletic option to his side, they can afford to turn to a more robust run defender like Robert Spillane, or maybe even Buddy Johnson.
The run defense has to be better by default, but top 10 is generous. They were often a borderline top-10 unit in recent years, anyway, especially if you measure by yards per rush allowed. While they might be strong on a play-to-play basis, they would slip with gap integrity and allow a long one that throws the averages out of wack.
Bush isn’t going to be much better than he was last year. And Myles Jack isn’t going to be much better against the run than Schobert. And the secondary got worse in terms of tackling efficiency with Joe Haden gone and Ahkello Witherspoon presumably entering the starting lineup. On top of that, we can’t assume that Tuitt and Alualu will be the same players when they return.