The Pittsburgh Steelers inserted rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt into the starting lineup three games ago, and they have won each game since, clinching a playoff spot and setting up a season finale that could vault them to the top of the AFC North and grant them the third seed in the conference.
Of course, it would be disingenuous to suggest that Tuitt had that much of an impact on the team’s fortunes, but he has begun to acclimate himself well to seeing 50+ snaps a game, as he has logged about as much playing time in the last three games as he did in the previous 12 combined.
While he continues to learn and adapt as he plays, Tuitt had his biggest impact as a player on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, playing with greater consistency overall while also recording his first forced fumble and first sack.
The Chiefs’ first play from scrimmage was also their longest run of the day, going for 10 yards by Jamaal Charles. Kansas City ran off right tackle in Tuitt’s direction, getting sucked a bit inside initially but eventually working to the edge against the right guard. He wasn’t able to stick an arm out in time, but the real culprit for this play was actually the linebacker behind him getting spun around.
That opening drive lasted about seven minutes and concluded in a field goal when Cameron Heyward was able to sack Alex Smith on third down on the 10-yard line. There were a lot of things happening on this play, with Heyward working to the outside, but Tuitt’s pressure also deserves to be pointed out, getting a hand in the right tackle’s chest and driving him back before cutting inside. Had Heyward not gotten home, Tuitt may have.
Tuitt registered three tackles in the game, and this was certainly the easiest of the three, but then again, you have to be able to make the plays put in front of you, and frankly, we’ve seen other players this season playing left defensive end not coming through. The right guard just chipped Tuitt en route to the second level, but the rookie stayed on his feet and kept Knile Davis in front of him, making the tackle for a gain of one.
The Chiefs were only trailing 10-6 midway through the third quarter when they were driving into Steelers territory. On the 28, Kansas City had a second and seven when Smith threw the screen to Charles. As the back was funneled inside, Tuitt cleared off his blockers and struck Charles from behind, jarring the ball loose.
The rookie finished off the day with his first sack by being in the right place at the right time. He got great push against the right guard off the snap, driving him into the backfield and helping flush Smith out of the pocket. After he tucked the ball in, the quarterback tripped, and Tuitt hunted him down.