The defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers has very few believers. The unit crashed following the loss of Ryan Shazier last December, and all the group's fears about the group were exacerbated last week when the Green Bay Packers made their starters and backups for 51
And on Saturday they had an elite defense against the Tennessee Titans. Even with T.J. Watt, Morgan Burnett and Mike Hilton watched the Steelers the Titans, a last-season playoff team that went scoreless through three-quarters. They finished six points, the same number of bags the Steelers did to their quarterbacks. The same quarterbacks threw two interceptions on rookie steelers fuses in Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen, and managed only 168 yards through the air. The Run Defense, which broke through opponents last season for 4.4 yards per carry, kept the Titans down to less than half. It was about as close to a perfect game as the Steelers could have played.
And it stuck to the formula the Steelers have to rely on this season. No Shazier means no breaker in the middle of the field. The Steelers can no longer expect their Secondary to produce deck sacks for them. You have to create pressure in almost every game. They did that wonderfully against the Titans, and that came without some of their best defenders. With a watt-gap of 100 percent, the pass-rush should be even better in the regular season. Burnett will alleviate some of the coverage concerns.
But these were features we knew the Steelers had come into this game and into the season. The real question was how the Steelers would fight back after a 51-point embarrassment. The Steelers never figured out how to play on the defensive without Shazier in the last season, but it never felt as if they had recovered from his injury. The NFL convention dictates focusing on the next man. The Steelers never got over Shazier.
This preseason game gave them a chance to respond to adversity. They passed the test with flying colors without Shazier. That does not mean that they will be a better defense than they ever were with him, but for the first time it feels like they are no longer a defense Ryan Shazier . They are simply a defense with different players on linebacker, one who has gotten used to his new normal and has learned to work within those limitations.
The Steelers have all the talent they need for defense. They just had to figure out how to use it. If Saturday was any indication, they have just made this off season.