The Defense makes this Steelers team a contender (Mike Pelaia's column, Nov. 15)

As the Steelers ride a five-game win streak and sit atop the AFC North with a healthy lead, it’s easy to talk about their prolific offense. It’s easy to discuss the amazing numbers Ben Roethlisberger is putting up and the tremendous breakout season of James Conner.
You’d be crazy if you didn’t mention JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown or Vance McDonald. And how could you forget the offensive line?  They may be the best in the business.
Yet, the one side that gets bashed quite a bit, including by me, may be the unit that actually solidifies this Pittsburgh Steelers team as a legitimate contender – the defense.
Over this current five-game win streak, the defense has elevated its play. And while I’m still not convinced the secondary is very good, I’m convinced the front seven can mask that.  This defense has finally begun to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They find themselves tied atop the NFL lead with 31 sacks.  TJ Watt leads the way with an impressive eight.  Cam Heyward has come on lately and is now up to 4.5 sacks and the guy I’m probably most impressed with this season is Bud Dupree who’s garnered 4.5 sacks to go along with 26 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a touchdown scored.  Dupree is an important piece of this linebacker corps that this team desperately needed. It’s now up to him to continue to play this well.
If Stephon Tuitt could step up a little more and add to his three sacks and Jon Bostic and Vince Williams continue to lead the way up the middle, they are numbers one and two on the team in tackles, then this front seven will continue to thrive.
When the front seven thrives, the secondary, who is the weakest link on the team, gets bailed out. The pass defense ranks 5th in the league overall, and trust me, it’s not due to the guys in the secondary.
I think Joe Haden is very solid but the rest of the group is average at best. Nobody on the team has more than one interception at this point in the season.
In fact, gaining turnovers is the next step in this teams’ development. They have 11 total, which is good for 19th in the league. If they want to get off the field faster and really help their secondary out, they need to force fumbles, pick the ball off more consistently and get in the positive, in terms of takeaways vs. turnovers.
Despite the lack of turnovers, I trust this unit right now. They have begun to click, hit their stride and perform.
They’ll need to continue that this coming Sunday, Nov. 18, in Jacksonville. The Black and Gold do have the number five ranked rush defense in the league and with Leonard Fournette back from injury, the Steelers will be tested. Fournette destroyed this Steelers last season, but that won’t happen again.  The defense is different this go round.
So are the Jaguars. They were a flash in the pan last year. A mirage. Led by the biggest mirage of them all, Blake Bortles. Bortles is a turnover machine, and it’s prime time for the Steelers to get a few this week, which they will. They’ll pick Bortles off twice and get him to fumble another time.
In fact, the Steelers will make Bortles look so bad that the Landry Jones era may begin for Jacksonville.
I look for the Steelers to roll in Jacksonville on Sunday, 33-13, led by what is both a powerful offense and a now stellar defense.



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