The Pittsburgh Steelers will face an uphill battle this season. As the team develops its starting quarterback, what players can Mike Tomlin count on to protect the endzone?
A reconstruction would not define the current state of the Pittsburgh franchise. Head coach Mike Tomlin has yet to have a losing season as he led the black and gold. Consistency in the leadership position has helped fans who support the Steel Curtain keep their cool when discussing what’s in store for them this year.
As Matt Canada and the offense work out the issues, the defensive side must find a way to hold on to the lead. Here are some players who will make an impact this season.
3. Steelers Defense welcomes LB Myles Jack
Finding a versatile linebacker is a tougher task than most realize. Defensive coordinators rely on the instincts of their field generals to make quick plays and adjustments. Playing without a healthy linebacker cost Mike Tomlin’s team opportunities to advance through the playoffs last season. According to ESPN.com, the Steelers finished last in rushing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed per game.
Pittsburgh’s decision to sign Myles Jack will help Teryl Austin adjust during his first year as defensive coordinator. His 513 total career tackles helped the Jaguars defense develop as a top defense. Jack’s tackle total last season fell to eight short of his career high.
Filling the void will be easy for the new member of the Steel Curtain. Defensive linemen like Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward will force offensive coordinators to double them, leaving an easy path for the Pittsburgh linebacker. If Jack has a productive season, the Steelers will too.
2. Steelers Defense calls for Mikah Fitzpatrick Air Patrol
Troy Polamalu set the standard for safeties that followed his legacy. His performances on the field defined Pittsburgh’s sense of football. Polamalu’s retirement forced front office executives to find a replacement.
In 2019, the Steelers decided to bring in their next point guard. The trade with the Miami Dolphins sent Minkah Fitzpatrick to Heinz’s field. Within months, the former Alabama defensive back has secured a starring role. According to ESPN.com, Fitzpatrick’s ball-peddling ability has helped him record nine interceptions in two years. His thirteen career interceptions will only increase throughout his career.
Race assistance is also part of Fitzpatrick’s skills. When the opposing backs line up opposite number thirty-nine, they must account for his persistent pursuit. Pittsburgh’s starting safety made a living making a tackle in the open field. His 352 career tackles will help the Steelers put down their opponents’ rushing attacks.
3. TJ Watt’s pass rush will mark the Steelers’ golden ticket
In 2017, the Pittsburgh front office drafted an edge rusher who would become their franchise player. With the 30th pick in the first round, the Steelers selected TJ Watt from the University of Wisconsin. League analysts knew of the production associated with the Watt surname. As his brother JJ prepared for another dominant season, TJ began his own NFL journey.
It didn’t take long for Watt to find his place in the organization. At the end of his first season, the Steelers knew they had found a gem. His total of seven sacks has increased with his time in the league. In 2022, Watt tied Hall of Fame rusher Michael Strahan’s regular season sack record – tripling his rookie year total.
Keeping opposing quarterbacks under duress is how TJ earns pay. Forcing fumbles comes with the territory. According to ESPN.com, Watt has recorded more than twenty fumbles in five seasons. These turnovers provide swings of momentum at pivotal moments.
Defending the end zone will fall on the shoulders of the stars. As Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky learn the offense, Mike Tomlin must ensure his defense is ready for the task ahead.