It would be fair to say that two nights ago against the Panthers, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense did not look very impressive. If there was one positive to take away from it all, however, it would have to be the red zone defense. Carolina cracked the Steelers’ 20-yard line on five separate drives during the night, but failed to come away with a single touchdown, and they never gave up a goal-to-go situation.
That will be the aspect that I choose to focus on right now, and it was a trend that spanned from the first drive of the game through to the second half, although the Panthers did not get into the red one again about past the midway point of the third quarter.
As mentioned, it started early, and the Steelers ended the Panthers’ promising second drive with a team effort sack that forced a loss of 11 yards. The sack knocked them back to the 29-yard line and forced an attempt of a 47-yard field goal, although it was good.
The Panthers’ third drive ended in a very similar way. After marching down the field from their own 17-yard line, they got all the way to the Steelers’ 15-yard line in 11 plays—including a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty—before yet another sack, this for a loss of nine yards, forced another long field goal, this one for 42 yards, and again made.
Carolina got even closer just a drive later, with an 11-play drive stalling on the Steelers’ 10-yard line on third and seven. It was helped by a sack on first down that forced a second-and-long, but on third down, rookie first-round cornerback Artie Burns was able to get in front of and knock down a pass headed for the left corner of the end zone and an eligible receiver. The net result was a third consecutive field goal, and just nine points in three trips inside the red zone.
Just before the end of the first half, on the following drive, Carolina continued its offensive prowess between the 20s, and reached Pittsburgh’s 13-yard line before a third-and-10 pass that was caught in the end zone for a touchdown was instead wiped out due to an offensive pass interference penalty. The ensuing third-and-20 pass fell incomplete, and the Panthers settled for a fourth straight field goal and failed trip into the red zone.
They sort of made if five-for-five when they split a drive to open the third quarter, because they were able to recover the ball on a punt that touched off the calf of a Steelers coverage player. They took over on the Steelers’ 22, and ultimately reached the four-yard line to set up a third-and-two. But a safety blitz forced an errant pass, and yet another field goal ensued.
The Panthers reached the 26-yard line on the next drive, and missed a 44-yard field goal, but while the defense obviously struggled they must be given credit at least for their resilience, which is the same thing that they showed during the regular season a year ago.