Defensive depth could be the key to Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 season

Mike Tomlin’s team has enjoyed a solid offseason and an impressive preseason. Will all the moves pay off for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023?

Following a 2-6 start a year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers won seven of their final nine games to wrap up a 9-8 season. That was good enough for a third-place finish in the AFC North and no playoff berth for the first time since 2019.

It did mean that head coach Mike Tomlin once again avoided a losing season, a 16-year streak that has been greeted with admiration by some and disdain by others.

There is plenty of frustration in the Steel City. The bottom line is that this franchise has not won a postseason game since defeating Andy Reid’s Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the 2016 AFC Divisional Playoffs. Since then, Tomlin’s club has laid some big-time eggs in the playoffs, allowing a combined 171 points in losses to the Patriots (36-17), Jaguars (45-42), Browns (48-37) and Chiefs (42-21). Ugly is an understatement.

There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to both sides of the ball. Tomlin’s forte is defense and that unit has certainly not been up to the challenge in the playoffs as of late.

In his first year as general manager, Omar Khan has received some glowing reviews for revamping this roster. The real onus has been on the defensive side of the ball. There’s a new-look inside linebacking corps and more big bodies on the three-man line.

The new starters are free-agent additions such as inside linebackers Elandon Roberts (Dolphins) and Cole Holcomb (Commanders), as well as veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson (Vikings). There’s also 2023 second-round pick Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin), the new nose tackle. These newcomers join standouts such as end Cameron Heyward, outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and heady safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

What really stands out is the depth, an aspect that should help this club as the season unfolds. There’s pass-rusher Markus Golden (Cardinals), inside linebacker Kwon Alexander (Jets), versatile defensive back Desmond King (Texans) and physical safety Keanu Neal (Buccaneers). Don’t forget rookies such as cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and preseason pass-rushing sensation Nick Herbig.

At least on paper, this appears to be the deepest Steelers’ defense in years. That is, on paper. There’s a lot of discussion on whether quarterback Kenny Pickett will take a bigger step in 2023. None of that will matter much if Pittsburgh’s defense doesn’t respond in resounding fashion.