Good Morning Football Debates If Steelers’ Defense Can Carry The Load

As the NFL season officially gets underway tonight with the annual Hall Of Fame preseason game in Canton, it’s finally beginning to hit home just how close we are to another season of Pittsburgh Steelers football. For the first time in 18 seasons, Ben Roethlisberger will no longer be the man under center, and thus, a new era of Steel City football is upon us. The calling card of the team this year is widely expected to be the defense, which added several key ingredients including Myles Jack, Larry Ogunjobi and Levi Wallace to an already formidable unit. It begs the question though, can the defense ALONE carry the team and, more notably, an offense undergoing transition, into the postseason? It’s a question the GMFB crew asked on this morning’s segment on NFL Network and the panel had some mixed feelings.

“Not by themselves, no,” GMFB Co-Host Kyle Brandt said. “They need really good play from their quarterback and their quarterback by nature, by position, by assignment is probably going to be Mitch Trubisky. But make no mistake, the quarterback of their offense is going to be Najee Harris. T.J. Watt’s going to do his thing but this is the offense.”

A re-tooled offensive line featuring several new starters like center Mason Cole and guard James Daniels, the latter of whom played with Trubisky in Chicago, should make life easier not only for Trubisky, but also Harris, who ran for 1,200 yards last season, most of which after first contact. I wholeheartedly agree with Brandt though, this team’s clear identity is going to be playing a ball control-style of offense, utilizing their 244-pound stud tailback with a clear emphasis on keeping the defense fresh.

Which brings us to the defense. Last year, before injuries took their toll, the defense was as punishing as ever. However, the loss of Stephon Tuitt was felt up front on defense, and after a season-ending ankle injury to nose tackle Tyson Alualu, the bottom fell out for the team’s run defense, literally. Uninspired play at inside linebacker by former first-rounder Devin Bush and Joe Schobert didn’t help matters, and Pittsburgh finished dead last against the run. On a weekly basis, the defense seemed to be an absolute sieve for opposing ball carriers. The epitome of this was felt, by me personally, the most in the December loss to the Vikings, in which Dalvin Cook ran for 205 yards, after clearly not being 100 percent all week, and ultimately ruled a game-time decision.

“They made some good additions,” co-host and former NFL cornerback Jason McCourty said. “I played with Larry, great player, interior guy, stopping the run. They needed to because the Pittsburgh defense last year was amongst one of the worst. Two things, they gave up the most 20+ yard rushes. If you can’t stop the run, its very hard to think you’re going to be a great defense carrying the entire team into the playoffs.”

He ended his take on the matter with a cruel reminder of what a great defense and lackluster QB play can get you, as he pointed back to the 2019 season. After Roethlisberger went down with the elbow injury, the team was left in the hands of Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges. The defense was lights out, keeping them in seemingly every single game. And yet, they couldn’t make the playoffs, finishing 8-8 despite the league’s fifth-ranked defense.

The quarterback room as currently constructed is a ways away from that ’19 season, obviously featuring Trubisky, Rudolph and first-round pick Kenny Pickett. Trubisky has been running the majority of first-team reps in camp thus far, and looks to be under center Week 1, barring a disastrous preseason. Co-host Peter Schrager ended the segment more or less saying that even if the defense is playing lights out, the team is going to sink or swim based on the play at QB.

“The elephant in the room, Trubisky,” Schrager said. “It’ll all be up to Trubisky.”

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