What Makes the Steelers Defense Elite?

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers proved to the NFL that their defense was elite. Over the course of the season, the Steelers defense forced 38 turnovers, sacked opposing quarterbacks 54 times, while giving up the fifth lowest amount of points league wide. Not to mention, their defensive unit was the third lowest, fourteenth lowest, and sixth lowest in passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and total points allowed respectively. Yet, what specific things did the Steelers do defensively that made them so dominant, and what is likely to carry into 2020?

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For starters, the Steelers defense is full of Pro Bowl and All Pro caliber playmakers and stars including guys like Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, Joe Haden, and Minkah Fitzpatrick who combine to make an elite core of defensive disruptors.


Secondly, Mike Tomlin loves to run one of the most zone heavy defenses in the NFL, allowing as many eyes on the football as possible. Playing a lot of zone defense also helps limit as many mismatches as possible and in theory makes more than one guy close in on the football on any given play.

Plus, Pittsburgh was able to stop the run without stacking the box, allowing for the Steelers to drop more defensive backs into coverage to shut down the aerial attack. It also helped that Pittsburgh has loads of great defensive backs like Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Terrell Edmunds, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers ability to stop the run without committing seven or eight guys to shutting down the ground game was one of the factors that allowed the Steelers secondary to be so dominant.


And in a pass heavy league, being able to shut down the passing game is a real advantage to any defense, as it severely limits what opposing offenses feel comfortable implementing. Some offenses may try to avoid one or two corners, but with the Steelers, that’s impossible as every single defensive back has the ability to make a play on the football.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly was Pittsburgh’s ability to get to the quarterback with four or five edge rushers. Even without one of Pittsburgh’s better edge rushers in Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers defense was able to rack up sacks thanks to guys like Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, and Bud Dupree who wreaked havoc all of last season.


Going into next season, expect more of the same from the Steelers defense. Perhaps their takeaways may see a dip, but there is no question that Pittsburgh will have one of league’s most elite defensive units. And with Ben Roethlisberger ready to reignite Pittsburgh’s offense, expect for the Steelers to make the playoffs next season, as they try to get back to the postseason in 2020.


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