The Steelers defense is on track to accomplish something it hasn't done in 45 years.

TECHNOLOGY
featured image

I had to think twice when I saw the statistic. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense leads the entire NFL in interceptions. Despite the lack of pressure throughout the year, no unit has more picks than Pittsburgh’s 17, with three more added in Saturday night’s victory over the Las Vegas Raiders.

With two games left to play, here’s the top five leaderboard.

MORE INTERCEPTIONS, 2022:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers – 17
2. New England Patriots –16
2. Philadelphia Eagles – 16
4. San Francisco 49ers – 15
5. Six teams tied – 14

Not even in the Steelers’ dominant 2019 season did they keep up with the league, finishing second that year with 20 interceptions, behind the New England Patriots’ impressive 25. link for a championship lead in 2020, 18 interceptions that matched three other teams but didn’t hold the lead alone.

In fact, the last time Pittsburgh finished a year with the absolute lead in interceptions was in 1977, ending the year with 31. 2008 didn’t, 2005 didn’t, and none of the big groups in the ’90s did. In ’77, CB Mel Blount led the Steelers with six, a modest season by his standards, while DB Jimmy Allen had five and Jack Ham, one of the best coverage linebackers of all time, hit four. Tony Dungy intercepted three, the same with Glen Edwards and Donnie Shell, while even forward Dwight White picked a pair.

This year, Minkah Fitzpatrick leads the Steelers with five interceptions, tying his single-season high. He got off to a good start with two picks in his first two games and three in his first four before entering a five-game drought. But he called the game against Atlanta and had one of three INTs in Saturday’s win over Las Vegas. Leaguewide, only CJ Gardner-Johnson of the Eagles and Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks have more interceptions than Fitzpatrick’s five.

But to be the league leader, it has to come from more than one guy. Levi Wallace has three career highs this year, playing much better ball since his bye. Cam Sutton made three amazing plays on the ball last week for his trio of picks, while TJ Watt’s intercepted a pair. Four other secondary members also have one – Arthur Maulet, James Pierre, Damontae Kazee and Ahkello Witherspoon.

The more tips the better, that’s a fact, though it’s funny to see this year’s interception leaders not rank among the best teams in football. The Steelers have little hope for the playoffs, while the Patriots’ chances aren’t tremendously higher. The Eagles and 49ers are strong contenders, while the teams tied for fifth – the Packers, Broncos, Cowboys, Bills, Rams and Ravens – range from Super Bowl favorites to terrible teams. A lot of it has to do with the quarterback play, it still trumps everything else, even when you have a defense devouring the football.

Still, the Steelers defense always got the ball out, even without minor league minor talent outside of Fitzpatrick. It’s part of the mindset created by then DB trainer and now DC Teryl Austin, who has always focused on this element and practiced as such, running rotational circuits every training day, putting DBs on the machine JUGs before and after training and having DBs catch passes to finish almost every exercise. Since Austin was signed in 2019, the Steelers rank second in the NFL with 68 interceptions, trailing only the Patriots, and have a healthy lead over the third-place team. Of course, adding players like Fitzpatrick certainly helps boost interception numbers, but Austin has brought a mindset that carries over to the field. And after the next two games, that could make some history for the modern Steelers.

Tags