Dunlap: Tuitt Must Be Great For Defense To Work

DE could be biggest key for Steelers

Colin Dunlap
August 26, 2018 - 2:46 pm
Stephon Tuitt

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I don't know if you did it reluctantly, as a matter of habit because the Steelers were playing (and our forefathers command us to watch all things Steelers here in Pittsburgh) or because you had a genuine interest, but I am guessing you did the same thing on late Saturday afternoon that I did. You watched the Steelers preseason game. 

At least for a little while.

At least long enough to watch the guys who you recognize and the guys who will certainly have a job in a few weeks. 

All you needed to do was watch for the first couple plays --- and if you felt necessary carry on that viewing into the early portion of the second quarter --- to understand an undeniable truth: defensive end Stephon Tuitt, when at his best, can downright dominate a football game. He can disrupt and rattle, he can unsettle an offense and force it into 100 degrees of disarray where it appears no one is on the same page because the breakdown comes quickly and decisively. 

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I'll take it a step farther. That Tuitt who we saw in the early portion of the Titans preseason game on Saturday is one the Steelers must see throughout many games this season if they are going to have success on defense. You see, it's no secret the layer behind him (the linebackers) are still searching for a player such as Ryan Shazier, someone who can run sideline-to-sideline and, when he's on his game can be equal parts run-stopper and nuisance to the opposing pass game. Has Vince Williams shown enough of that? I don't know yet. Is anyone blown away by Jon Bostic? Not that I have heard. 

Granted, the ends have the potential to be super talented, but Bud Dupree needs to show it in more than spurts and TJ Watt needs to get on the field and start to get accustomed to game speed in the Steelers' new defensive configuration. 

That's why it's so important for the Steelers to be great up front; that's why a guy like Tuitt has to be a stalwart along the scrimmage line this season. 

And in the back end, the Steelers will definitely have a feeling out period as they get acquainted to a style of play that gives the look of a 3-3-5 stack at times. As such, players like Joe Haden, Morgan Burnett, Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Mike Hilton must come up and be ready to be sure-handed tacklers of men who outweigh them. That's how such a system works many times as this new defense will employ more men who can run, but can be beaten badly if you don't swoop in and bring ball-carriers down. Know how you optimally derail an offense wanting to poke holes in that 3-3-5 by running the football? You leverage the scrimmage line with great force. You create time and limit space. You don't let ballcarriers run into the gap that's their first option. 

That's why it's so important for the Steelers to be great up front; that's why a guy like Tuitt has to be a stalwart along the scrimmage line this season. 

You know, we haven't seen the best of Stephon Tuitt yet in his career. We have seen flashes, but we haven't seen that extended period of dominance --- and almost all of the reason has been because of various nicks, dings and even big injuries he's sustained. On top of that, it's been rare to have his services available at the same time as Cameron Heyward. It's no secret what both of them can do, when working in unison, to an opposing offensive line. 

But for me, as this is such a time of transition and many questions for the Steelers' defense, Tuitt might just be the ultimate key. If he's a stalwart along that scrimmage line, I'm having a hard time coming up with ways the unit can be stopped. If he disrupts regularly at the point of attack, it will infinitely make easier the job for all the men behind him.