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The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers season did not go as planned, or as expected, at least in some respects. Certainly, there was a reasonable expectation that the defense would be better than it was, with the run defense absolutely becoming a national embarrassment by the middle of the year and staying that way almost weekly to the end.

However, confidence remains high in the locker room of what this group is capable of, as long as everyone comes back and is healthy. I don’t think I need to remind any of our loyal readers of the fact that Stephon Tuitt missed the entire season, and Tyson Alualu missed most of it as well. Add those two players, and how much changes this season?

Then you have players like Alex Highsmith who continue to grow, and perhaps a chance to see bigger contributions from signings during the season like Ahkello Witherspoon and Montravius ​​Adams, who seem interested in staying in Pittsburgh. So do they have what it takes with this group to remain a strong defensive unit?

Undoubtedlysaid Highsmith, the second-year outside linebacker who stepped into a starting role this season. “I think we have the Defensive Player of the Year in TJ Watt, and Cam [Heyward] and minkah [Fitzpatrick] and many other guys too. I think we have a strong unit for next season, if we stay together, we stay healthy.”

Both Watt and Heyward were named First-Team All-Pros, although Fitzpatrick was left out of the accolade this time after achieving it in each of the last two seasons. He had a quieter season in terms of splash plays, but those who dig deeper realize how important this season was.

“I think we’re going to be one of the best defenses in the league next year, so I can’t wait for that,” Highsmith added. “I really want to do it. But I know we had a good game plan last night. It’s just that we couldn’t finish it, so it’s going to be important for us next year, to be able to finish those games.”

He was referring, of course, to Sunday’s embarrassment against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that spiraled completely out of control midway through the second quarter. Up until that point, the defense was actually playing great and making quick plays, intercepting Patrick Mahomes once and recovering a fortuitous fumble for a touchdown.

That, as you may remember, was when all hell broke loose. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on their next six drives, and that’s all he wrote. That is an unpleasant taste to leave in your mouth for sure, not being able to respond to such humiliation for so many months.

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