With each new generation of Steelers players, they strive to reach the level of those before them. Now it is guys like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Heyward who hope to be feared by offenses around the league.
Last season, the Steelers were 20th in points allowed and surrendered the most rushing yards in the league. For the first time since 2017, the Steelers were not in the top six for yards allowed, finding themselves in the 24th spot.
It was not exactly the year the defense wanted to have, and this year the unit is focused on getting back to being a classic Steelers defense.
Defending Defensive Player of the Year Watt spoke about the expectations in Pittsburgh.
"As a Pittsburgh Steeler defender, it's just that much more important for us to take pride in everyone that came before us and uphold the fact that the standard is the standard. At the end of the day, when the back is against the wall, when it's a two-minute drill, when the game is on the line, we want to be on the field," Watt said (via NFL.com). "That's the mentality we have to have to be a hard-nosed defense, and that's why we're here to build that type of tradition, that type of standard for the season."
The defense last year was not where they wanted it to be, with Watt commenting on the "unacceptable" number of 100-yard rushers they allowed in 2021.
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With such legends coming before them, there could be pressure on the players that could backfire. Heyward says he does not look at it as pressure, but what the team standard is.
"When you come to the Pittsburgh Steelers, you're known for your defense. That wasn't the case last year, so going forward it's put up or shut up. If we're going to win these games, it's got to come down to us," he said. "But that comes with the standard we are charged with upholding. It's not pressure. It's what's expected."
The Steelers are "based on defense," new senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores said.
"Its roots and foundation is defense," Flores said. "It's stopping the run and rushing the passer and keeping the score down. Any outsider can look at that and, if you peel back the layers, that's who the Steelers are and that's who we want to be and what we want to be. But there's a process to doing that."
Teryl Austin, who was promoted coordinator after three seasons serving as senior defensive assistant/secondary coach, said he appreciates Flores giving an outsiders view as someone just getting to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers' season was cut short after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card round.