Steelers Urged to Ink Run-Stopping Super Bowl Champion

Getty Chiefs' Anthony Hitchens celebrates a play.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is pretty stout — except for when it comes to stopping the run. Per, they were gashed for a league-high 2,483 yards (five yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. 24 of their opponents’ 498 rush attempts went for 20-plus yards, also a league-high. To make matters worse, 144 run plays went for first downs, which — you guessed it — is another league-high.

Part of the reason the Steelers’ run defense suffered was that two of its best run-stoppers, Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt, missed a huge chunk of the season. Tuitt is now retired after sitting out the 2021 season for personal reasons. Alualu, 35, is coming off a fractured ankle that he sustained in Week 2 versus the Las Vegas Raiders.

Pittsburgh recently signed former Browns and Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to supplant Tuitt at the tackle position. Myles Jack migrated north from the Jacksonville Jaguars via free agency to give Devin Bush some help at inside linebacker.

Beyond Watt

Where the Steelers could use the most help is on the outside. Of course, T.J. Watt is T.J. Watt — but even he can only do so much. Alex Highsmith is raring to have a career season opposite the Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s still developing. Lack of depth became an issue last season when Watt and Highsmith missed time in 2021 with groin injuries.

Bleacher Report suggests that Pittsburgh addresses its run-stopping issues with Super Bowl champion off-the-ball linebacker Anthony Hitchens. He spent his first seasons with the Dallas Cowboys after being selected in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL draft. The Kansas City Chiefs then scooped him up as a free agent in 2018, and he went back to work, logging 381 total tackles and 2.0 sacks in 59 starts, per Pro Football Focus. He also added an interception, four tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.

Named one of the most underrated free agents still on the market, Hitchens can offer the depth needed. He’s not going to be a game-changer but is a good fit to spell Watt or Heyward, especially against the run.

“The Steelers have their own questions marks at linebacker, star pass-rusher T.J. Watt aside,” Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox wrote. “While Pittsburgh did add Myles Jack this offseason, it ranked dead-last in both rushing yards allowed and yards per carry surrendered.”

“Hitchens can be a valuable asset in run support. He has tallied no fewer than 78 tackles in any of the past six seasons and missed only 10 games during that span.”

But Hitchens isn’t just a one-trick pony. He can also bring value in pass coverage. As Bleacher Report cited, Hitchens allowed an opposing passer rating of only 83.4 in coverage and was credited with only four missed tackles.

Talkin’ Money

Like a house on the market for months, Anthony Hitchens can be acquired at a value. Heading into the final year of his contract, the Chiefs released him in a cost-saving move in February, creating $8.4 million in cap space.

According to Over the Cap, Hitchens’ average per year salary has hovered around $5 million. The Steelers currently stand at $14.33 million in cap space as training camp kicks off next week.

As camp gives Mike Tomlin and company a more clear idea of their needs, look for them to make some moves.

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