While the Pittsburgh Steelers are desperate to get Ben Roethlisberger back under center on the offensive side of the ball, he is not the only injured player that the team should hope to get back as soon as possible, last on this past Sunday’s results.
Second-year starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt suffered a knee injury late in last week’s victory over the Cardinals, and was unable to practice during the week, which resulted in him missing the first action of his young career.
And it showed, as the Steelers had their second-worst showing against the run of the season, against a less accomplished running back and offensive line than they saw against the Ravens—a Chiefs team that was absent Jamaal Charles.
On Sunday, a young running back by the name of Charcandrick West took the front seven to task, putting up a career-best 110 yards on 22 carries. In all, the Chiefs compiled 138 rushing yards on 29 carries for 4.8 yards per carry.
The Steelers had come into the game as one of the best teams against the run thus far this year, both in terms of total yards allowed and yards per carry allowed, the latter a stark improvement from last season.
The emergence of Tuitt as a playmaker as well as consistent down-to-down starter had as much to do with that as anything, with the Steelers having found the appropriate bookmark end to complement burgeoning superstar Cameron Heyward, but he can’t stop the run on his own.
In order to substitute Tuitt’s playing time, the Steelers were forced to turn to Cam Thomas to make the start in his place. Thomas was the starting left defensive end for most of the 2014 season by default, largely simply because Tuitt was not yet ready as a true Junior in his rookie year.
Thomas has improved since last season, to be sure, and to be truthful, on the whole, he work against the run against the Chiefs was not bad, but there is a clear dropoff from Tuitt to him, and it was evident.
The fact that the Steelers needed Thomas to log so many snaps also speaks to how ineffective the rest of the defensive line depth was, with both L.T. Walton and Daniel McCullers struggling in their small handful of snaps on the field.
Of course, there is one other major culprit in this crime that cannot be ignored, that being the poor tackling that has been so frequently on display rearing its ugly head once again. Pro Football Focus credited the Steelers with 11 missed tackles on the game, and by our own accounting, that is generous.
Ryan Shazier struggled in this department in his first game back in several weeks, while Antwon Blake has merely continued his struggles in this area, as he continues to expand his lead in this category within the team. When the team is already weakened within the front seven, to add poor tackling on top of it creates a volatile concoction, and it blew up in their face on Sunday.