For the better part of the last half century, the Steelers have been a team synonymous with playing an ultra-physical brand of football known as “smash mouth”, featuring a punishing, ball control-style of offense and a smothering, punch-you-in-the-mouth brand of defense. From the dynasty “Steel Curtain” Super Bowl squads of the 70s to the early 2000s versions featuring Defensive Players of the Year winners like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, it’s been the bread and butter of the Pittsburgh Steelers for quite some time now.
Last season, the defense yet again led the league in sacks, but other than that, weren’t ranked very highly in much else, a lot of that due to injuries. The run defense, which for many seasons has always been at or near the top of the league in shutting down the opposition’s ground game, plummeted to dead last in the league. For multi-time team captain, All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward, a return to their physical roots will be a staple of success for the upcoming year, as he outlined earlier on an Inside Training Camp Live segment on NFL Network.
“I think you just got to expect we’re gonna have a smash-mouth defense, it’s going to get back to getting after the quarterback,” Heyward stated on NFL Network’s Wednesday edition of Inside Training Camp Live. “You got to make sure you get off the field quick because it’d be immense. Provide short fields by turnovers, can stop the run. If we can do that, that’s a good message and a good recipe for having a successful Sunday.”
Harassing opposing quarterback has been something as I stated earlier, that the team has been elite at, as they led the league in sacks for a fifth-consecutive season, registering 55. The ring leader in that department was stud pass-rusher T.J. Watt, the reigning DPOY who led the entire league and also tied Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 225, set back in 2001. Heyward was no slouch in this department either, as the big defensive lineman rung up ten sacks of his own.
The team fortified their depth issues along the defensive line from last season with several notable additions, including DeMarvin Leal, their third-round pick, who many analysts at one time had the defensive tackle pegged as a first-rounder. The team also added Larry Ogunjobi several weeks ago, who is coming off his finest season as a pro, posting seven sacks last season for the division rival Bengals. Those two as well as growth from other younger players last season will help offset the loss of standout Stephon Tuitt, who retired earlier this offseason.
A return to the smash mouth-style definitely seems to be in the cards this season, as the usually frugal front office spent a lot of money on several other defensive pieces, including inside linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Levi Wallace. A wild card will be Devin Bush, and seeing how effective he is now one full year removed from the ACL injury, which cut short his rookie season in 2020. Upon return last season, he lacked the top-flight explosive first step from his rookie year, often out of place and looking super tentative.
A return to defensive dominance will be a welcome sight by an offense undergoing a facelift at the QB position, be it free agent addition Mitch Trubisky or first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett. Trubisky certainly had his share of woes during his time in Chicago, and has been reportedly running with the first team offense throughout OTA’s. As such, many analyst are pegging this Steelers team to win roughly around seven games. Count Las Vegas in the mix as well, as many sports books such as FanDuel have the team’s over/under win total wager set at 7.5. Needless to say, not a lot of respect is being showered upon the 2022 version of this squad, and according to Heyward, that’s perfectly fine.
“We like it that way. If you don’t know what we’re doing by the time we get to Sunday, that is good for me, because we plan on shocking the world. And then we’ll see where our offense lies. We have some really good offensive parts, Najee, Diontae, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, I can go down the list, but those guys are going to be successful and they’re going to make it easy on the quarterbacks.”