It’s no easy task to stand out on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. There are so many talented players, including three first-team All-Pros from 2019. Stephon Tuitt was not one of those guys, but he’s playing like one in 2020. It’s crazy to think that, on a defensive line including Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Bud Dupree, Tuitt might be the best of the bunch through five games. Looking at the numbers, this season is on pace to be a career year for Stephon Tuitt.
Stephon Tuitt Is Playing Like an All-Pro
Last year, Stephon Tuitt played in six games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. The injury was a big shame because Tuitt was among the best players on the Steelers defense during those six games. To put it in context, Cam Heyward was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL last year, but he wasn’t even the best on his own team when Tuitt was healthy. Many thought Tuitt was playing at an All-Pro pace last year, and he’s on pace to be even better this year.
So far in 2020, Tuitt has already totaled four sacks. That puts him on pace to finish the season with around 12 sacks. Last year when he got injured, he was on pace for nine, and his career high is 6.5 back in 2015. Sacks just scratch the surface of what Tuitt is doing this year, though. He has recorded 12 QB hits through the first five games, the second most on the team. That’s a pace of 38 QB hits over 16 games. For reference, Tuitt’s career high is 20, and Watt’s is 36. Tuitt is on pace to set a career high in tackles for loss, too. He’s doing this while playing 77% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps, which would be the second-highest mark in his career if the current pace holds.
Key Contributor To Team Success
What makes Tuitt’s production more impressive is that he’s doing it on such a stacked defense. It’s not like he’s out there racking up stats because no one else on his team is capable of making plays. Despite playing one less game than most teams, the Steelers defense leads the NFL in sacks (24), pressures (79), and tackles for loss (42). They are second to the Baltimore Ravens in QB hits, with 57 to Baltimore’s 63. Against the run, Pittsburgh is allowing 3.3 yards per carry and 66.2 yards per game, both second to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Clearly, Stephon Tuitt isn’t just racking up empty numbers. His contributions are directly tied to a huge amount of team success on defense. Does he benefit from playing alongside Heyward, Watt, and Dupree? Sure, it definitely helps. But at the same time, those guys all benefit from playing next to Tuitt. His ability to get after the quarterback is so impressive for an interior defensive lineman. He has the perfect combination of speed off the ball, technique as a rusher, and pure power.
In his seventh year, the only thing that has held Tuitt back is his health. He has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, with the most notable being his torn pectoral muscle last year. But when he’s healthy, there aren’t many defensive linemen in the league better than Tuitt. There’s a reason Tuitt was signed to a long-term contract before his rookie deal was expired. Pittsburgh knew what they had in him, and the investment surely is paying off.
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