There are obviously a lot of factors that will affect how good the Pittsburgh Steelers are this season, but the biggest one is probably how good their defense plays. The Steelers defense is very well compensated with huge contracts being paid to players such EDGE T.J. Watt, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, despite the talent and pay Pittsburgh’s defense receives, CBS Sports only thinks they are “somewhat likely” to be a top-10 unit this season.
Writing for CBS Sports, Jared Dubin cites not having players such as Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Cameron Sutton on the roster this season and says that this might hold them back.
“The Steelers, meanwhile, are just a little bit thinner than the group we’ve gotten used to,” wrote Dubin. “The bone structure of the defense is still there with T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Cameron Heyward, but players like Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Cameron Sutton, most of their linebackers and other corners, and more have moved on and been replaced by less-sure things.”
While losing Sutton is a huge loss and I don’t think the team has adequately replaced him, I think Dubin is off a bit with the defensive line. While not having Tuitt stinks, he hasn’t played since 2020 and the team replaced him with defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi. While Ogunjobi is no Tuitt, he is able to play the run well and has shown flashes when rushing the passer. If Ogunjobi can stay healthy this season the defensive line should be fine.
In addition, losing Alualu is not a big deal at all. Alualu was a shell of himself last season and rookie Keeanu Benton should be able to fill the nose tackle position adequately. The 2022 version of Alualu was not the 2020 version and I don’t think it is too much of a hot take to say Benton could be better than the 2022 version of Alualu.
The biggest issue for the Steelers is their cornerbacks, and specifically the slot cornerback position. The projected starting slot cornerback is Chandon Sullivan, who has not shown to be very good so far in five NFL seasons. There isn’t much depth behind him so if the Steelers do lose him to injury they have nowhere to turn.
Pittsburgh will try and offset their weakness at cornerback with a great pass rush. Both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are great players who combined for 20 sacks last season and that was with Watt missing half the season. Throw in Heyward, who does a great job generating pressure from the interior, and opposing offenses are not going to have much time to pick apart the secondary.
The Steelers may not be a top-five unit this season, but if they stay healthy they should easily be a top-10 unit based on the talent they have.