The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 1-1 after two weeks in an AFC North division in which nobody has gone winless. While they squeaked by the Cleveland Browns in the season opener, they were trounced last Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens. The team still has many questions to answer on both sides of the ball, so here are a few things to watch out for tonight against the Carolina Panthers on the defensive side.
The defense as a whole is giving up 26.5 points per game through the first two weeks. They gave up first downs half the time last game if you factor in the fourth-down conversion, which was gained with ease on a quarterback sneak.
There is some solace to be taken in the fact that the Ravens went just two-for-six inside the red zone, and two-for-five in goal to go situations, and Joe Flacco only threw for 166 yards on 29 pass attempts, but two of those passes did go for touchdowns on blown coverages.
I can’t help but wonder if a lineup change might be coming, if not in time for tonight, then soon. The change, of course, would be at left defensive end, moving Cam Thomas from the starting lineup into a rotational role.
The likely move would be shifting Cameron Heyward back over to the left side with Brett Keisel resuming a starting spot on the right side. Stephon Tuitt could also benefit from a greater workload with Thomas demanding less playing time. Still, my gut tells me this is not going to happen just yet, even with a long week to think it over.
Where was the pass rush last week? Much as the pass rush itself, the Steelers were sackless in last week’s game against Baltimore after registering three sacks in the season opener. Neither outside linebacker produced much, and the defense as a whole only influenced a small handful of passes that I can probably count on one hand.
The Steelers have gone back-to-back weeks to start the season without recording a turnover as well, despite the fact that it seemed we might be seeing signs of this coming to fruition during the preseason. Cam Newton only averages an interception about once every 36 throws, and Carolina’s backs are not exactly prone to fumbling either.
One of the biggest concerns on defense so far this year has been the play of veteran Lawrence Timmons, who has simply not been what the Steelers need him to be as the leader of this transitional unit. He’s missed holes or tackles over a dozen times through the first two games. He needs to come back and play well tonight to settle this defense down.
The Steelers used four linemen and six linebackers several times at the goal line against the Ravens. It was effective against the run, but vulnerable through the air. Dick LeBeau said that they would be working on pass defense in the 4-6-1 during the week, which means you can probably expect to see it again if Carolina gets in a goal-to-go situation.
Both of the team’s opponents this season have had success attacking the defense using the no huddle and/or the hurry up, and you can assume that they will continue seeing it until they show they can stop it.
That might not come until this defense is able to come together as a whole. There are several young players mixed in with new veterans and other players in new places. It’s simply going to take time to come together, but it’s still no excuse.