Steel City Underground’s 2022 Steelers Awards: Defense
Steel City Underground presents their annual postseason awards to members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who had outstanding performances during the 2022 NFL regular season.
Every year, Steel City Underground does a postseason analysis of players who stood out in different categories in order to award those performances. This year’s defense awards were carefully considered based on statistics, the eye test, and individual contributions given by the award winner to the team as a whole during the 2022 NFL regular season.
First-team All-Pro and NFL Pro Bowler Minkah Fitzpatrick lit up the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive backfield in 2022. The safety played in just 15 games due to injury, yet still grabbed a team-high six interceptions on the season; often his turnovers changed the tempo of the game.
In Week One, Fitzpatrick grabbed a pick-six off of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and also blocked a field goal attempt that sent the game into overtime for an eventual Steelers win. Just one week later, Fitzpatrick intercepted New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
On the season, Fitzpatrick added 56 solo tackles, a tackle for a loss, and a quarterback hit as he set the tempo for a Pittsburgh defense that was forced, early in the season, to help carry an offense that struggled initially.
Yes, Fitzpatrick had more interceptions on the season, but Levi Wallace – in his first season with Pittsburgh – stepped up in just 15 games (nine starts) to show his skills in coverage. The rangy corner made a career-best four interceptions in 2022 and ranked second on the team in the same category.
On the season, Wallace had 13 pass defenses and 33 solo tackles while going head-to-head against some of the league’s top receivers.
Sack attack award
The 2022 season saw a new Steelers sack leader in Alex Highsmith. Teammate T.J. Watt endured injury and missed time on the field as a result, opening the door for Highsmith to step up his game at outside linebacker.
In just his third NFL season, Highsmith grabbed a career high 14.5 sacks. He added 63 combined tackles (38 solo), 12 tackles for a loss, 20 quarterback hits, one pass defensed, and five forced fumbles.
Takedown artist award
Although the Steelers defense had its own moments of adversity due to injuries, a need to rotate personnel, and slowly improved run defense, linebacker Myles Jack led the team in total tackles. He logged 104 total tackles, 61 solo, and 3 tackles for a loss.
Jack showed his worth in takedowns, including those in the open field, while playing in just 15 games. On the season, Jack added three pass defenses and a quarterback hit.
The Steelers needed a strong leader to rally their defense, and they got that and more from twelfth-year veteran Cameron “Cam” Heyward. 2022 was a stellar season for Heyward who was incredibly disruptive to opponent’s game plans.
On the season, Heyward grabbed the second-most sacks with 10.5 for Pittsburgh while adding 23 quarterback hits, 14 tackles for a loss, 74 total tackles (39 solo), four pass defenses, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
Heyward was rewarded for his efforts with his sixth trip to the NFL Pro Bowl, although the event had been changed to an olympic-style skills event and games for the first time in league history ahead of the Super Bowl.