Last December, as Keenan Allen and the Chargers tore up Heinz Field, one thing became painfully clear: The Steelers were too slow and athletically overmatched at inside linebacker.
On Sunday night, the man tasked with changing that narrative -- the one the team jumped into the 2019 NFL Draft's top ten picks to select -- made something else thing clear: Devin Bush has arrived, and it's a new era for a turnover-hungry Steelers defense.
After a few welcome-to-the-NFL moments during the first few games, when he was a fraction of a second slow in reading offensive schemes, Bush has transformed into the kind of sideline-to-sideline playmaker that the Steelers envisioned. If he keeps up the pace that he has set during the season's first six weeks, he could set some records.
How good has Bush been?
• With 52 combined tackles (solo and assisted), Bush ranks tenth among all NFL defenders and first among rookies. The closest rookie defender is Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb, with 43 combined tackles. Bush is on pace for about 137 tackles in 2019, which would rank as the third-highest single-season total in Steelers history. The only players to bury more opponents were Lawrence Timmons (139 tackles in 2014) and James Farrior (141 in 2003), according to Pro Football Reference. Bush is going to zip by the current team rookie tackles record, held by Kendrell Bell (83 in 2001), and he's on pace for the 15th-highest rookie tackles total in NFL history.
• Bush leads the NFL with four fumble recoveries, and he ranks second among linebackers with two interceptions. We're only six weeks into the season, and Bush is already one of just 33 linebackers during the post-merger era (1970-present) to have at least four fumble recoveries and two INTs in a single year. The only other Steelers linebackers to pull off that feat are Jack Ham, Jack Lambert and Mike Merriweather.
• It might be unreasonable to expect Bush to keep getting turnovers at this pace. But even if he isn't such a turnover hawk the rest of the way, he has already flipped the field like few other linebackers in team history. Bush has the fourth-most turnovers in a single season for a Steelers linebacker, with a whopping ten games to go:
Ham (1974), Chuck Allen (1970), Lambert (1978), Joey Porter (2002), Greg Lloyd (1989), Dirt Winston (1979) and Merriweather (1987) also forced six turnovers in a single season.
• Bush is holding his own in pass coverage. When targeted in the receiving game, Bush has allowed an 84.9 passer rating, per Pro Football Reference. That ranks 19th in the league among qualified linebackers. He's allowing an average of six yards per passing attempt, placing 24th at his position. For comparison's sake, the guy he primarily replaced--Jon Bostic--allowed a 115.7 pass rating and 8.3 receiving yards per target with Pittsburgh in 2018.
Bush isn't a finished product. In particular, he could stand to improve his missed tackle rate (8.8. percent, which ranks 204th out of 402 qualified defenders). But less than two months into his regular-season career, the tenth overall pick in the draft is demonstrating the kind of game-altering athleticism and nose for the ball that the Steelers have lacked since Ryan Shazier took the field. He's leading the charge for a team that is forcing turnovers on a league-leading 22.1 percent of opponents' drives--nearly triple their turnover rate in 2018 (8.2 percent, tied for 28th). The Steelers took a big swing in the '19 draft. With each passing week, and with each splash play that Bush makes, it's looking like they connected and finally fixed a glaring flaw in the middle of the defense.
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