For a few years, the Pittsburgh Steelers annually had one of the NFL's best defenses. Since drafting T.J. Watt in 2017, Pittsburgh has finished in the top 10 in yards allows or points allowed in four of six campaigns, and in the top 10 in both categories three times. During that span, they are tied atop the league with the Patriots, Bills, and Ravens in EPA per play.
Last year, they finished just inside our outside the top 10 (13th in yards, 10th in points, 12th in DVOA, 16th in EPA per play) in most metrics, though, so they fell a bit short of their ceiling. In 2023, edge rusher Alex Highsmith thinks they have the ability to recapture top form. As long as they meet one condition, that is.
"I know 100 percent we can be the best defense in the NFL, especially if we all stay healthy," Highsmith said, per the team's official website. "I am excited about the guys that we have. We have depth at almost every position. It's been good seeing guys come together and get better and better every day. The sky is the limit for us. I am excited to see how we continue to grow."
Last year, Watt missed seven games due to injury. Rookie defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal missed six. Chris Wormley missed four,. Myles Jack missed two, as did Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, while Damontae Kazee sat eight, Ahkello Witherspoon only played four... you get the point. Of course, every team deals with injuries every season.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
This year, the Steelers have remade themselves a bit. After adding Patrick Peterson in free agency and turning over their linebacker room, Pittsburgh drafted Joey Porter Jr., Keeanu Benton, Nick Herbig, and Cory Trice. Highsmith feels really good about the talent on hand, and how it can help the unit reach the level it hit toward the end of last season.
"We have so many good players," said Highsmith. "We have so many guys who are dedicated to this game. Last year we started playing our best ball at the end of the year. If we can build on that, we can be the best. That is what I believe because we have a lot of guys who have bought in and are talented as well."