Bengals News

AFC North Positional Rankings: Defensive Line

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Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back

Jeremy Hill

(32) runs the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Dan McCullers-Sanders (62) and inside linebacker

Sean Spence

(51) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) defend during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

DE: Cameron Heyward

NT: Steve McLendon

DE: Stephon Tuitt

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defense has become one of the NFL’s most notorious defenses. Under former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive line was one of the league’s most dominant for several years, with Steelers greats Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith anchoring the line. However, in recent years, the defensive line has struggled under LeBeau.

Dec 14, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) is shown after a play in the fourth quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Steelers won 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh now has a new defensive coordinator in Keith Butler, who should help the Steelers’ defense immediately, especially at defensive line, a position group that has some potential. While nose tackle Steve McLendon isn’t exactly young at age 29, the Steelers’ ends are young and exciting.

Stephon Tuitt is only 22 years old, and after a rookie year in which he only started four games, he should be Pittsburgh’s full-time starter at right end. And Cameron Heyward, at age 26, is entering his prime. Fresh off of a 7.5-sack campaign in 2014 and a five-sack campaign in 2013, Heyward figures to improve even more in 2015, which Pittsburgh desperately needs.

The Steelers’ line finished with 33 sacks in 2014, good for 26th in the NFL. While that number isn’t horrendous, the three aforementioned starters only accumulated 9.5 of those sacks last season. Tuitt and Heyward alone will need to combine for at least 15 sacks if Pittsburgh’s line wants to have a successful season. Because if the defensive line can’t generate a pass rush, the Steelers’ secondary will struggle. In 2014, the Steelers only picked off 11 passes; only six teams picked off less.

Pittsburgh’s line is adequate, but it has potential. The team’s two ends are young and explosive; they will both need to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks if Pittsburgh’s defense is to improve. An impact from Heyward and Tuitt could go a long way, especially if the Steelers can make a run at the Super Bowl in this upcoming season.

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