On the surface, opposing offenses may look like they’re moving the ball at will. The Steelers have allowed Washington and Cincinnati to go over 375 yards of total offense. But as Mark Twain said, stats can be deceiving, and like Twain also said, the Steelers red zone defense is really good.
Ok, maybe I made that last part up.
But there’s no debate about how well this defense has clamped down inside their 20. In two games, offenses are 1-7 in scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The Bengals were shut out completely, 0-3, highlighted by a huge stand late in the third quarter. They ran six plays inside the Steelers 15 and gained just two yards of non-penalty offense. Andy Dalton didn’t complete a pass. And Cincinnati was forced to settle for a field goal, making it a 17-9 game instead of a 17-13 Steelers lead.
That was the theme in the locker room following Sunday’s divisional victory.
“Guys got a better understanding of what’s going on in specific red zone things that we do,” James Harrison told reporters via Steelers.com. “I think it’s a tighter area. You don’t have to cover as much ground. That makes it a little bit easier to cover receivers.”
The numbers agree with Harrison’s comments. Kirk Cousins and Dalton have gone a combined 3/13 in the red zone, failing to throw a touchdown pass and tossing one interception. The longest play allowed inside the 20 is just six yards, a reception by Jamison Crowder with under a minute remaining when the game was already decided. Overall, they’ve given up just one touchdown in this area, a goal line plunge by Chris Thompson in the opener.
Despite the overall pressure on quarterbacks being far from good, even that’s been better in the red area.
“I thought when we were in the red zone we got some good pressure,” Cam Heyward told the media yesterday afternoon.
Heyward was quick to heap praise on the secondary, saying they’ve been playing “lights out” and quipped they held A.J. Green to his lowest output of the season.
It’s certainly a change in narrative from a few weeks ago when the secondary was viewed as the weak link of the team. While the depth is still a legitimate cause for concern, the starters have been excellent across the board.
It’s next to impossible for the Steelers to play this good the entirety remainder of the season. But it’s proof that this is the winning standard.