Stephon Tuitt’s Return Solidifies Steelers’ Defense

He may not have blown up the stat sheet, but make no mistake, the healthy return of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt was an important ingredient in the team’s defensive success in shutting down the Miami Dolphins—while the game was still competitive, of course, before they added some cosmetic yardage and points at the end.

He finished with four tackles, but he also had a big fumble recovery at the end of the first half, when James Harrison recorded a strip sack of Matt Moore with the Dolphins offense pushing ahead inside the 10-yard line to set up a first and goal.

That was a crucial momentum-saving play in a game that at the time was still just 20-6, and with the Dolphins threatening to quickly cut into that deficit, inside the 10-yard line and driving. On just the play before the first-and-goal play, they hit on a 37-yard pass.

Late in the third quarter, Tuitt made two stops in a row to end one Dolphins possession at the Steelers’ 42-yard line. Facing a third and four, Miami handed it off to running back Jay Ajayi, with Tuitt the primary tackler on the play, stopping him for no gain on a run up the middle.

The Dolphins went for it on fourth and fourth, but with the coverage downfield holding up, Moore was forced to flee the pocket and ultimately tried to scramble for the first down. Tuitt came back into the play and chase the quarterback down from behind after two yards, nine seconds into the play, to force a turnover on downs.

Tuitt finished the game with a couple more tackles over the remaining quarter of the game, including a stop on Ajayi after a one-yard gain and, on the final drive, making the tackle after a reception of five yards on a third and 10 play.

You might recall that the third-year starter was forced to miss the Steelers’ last two games of the regular season, and in fact was only in on the first three plays of Pittsburgh’s Week 15 victory over the Bengals when, as he was going for a sack, ended up twisting his knee. Instead of a sack, he came up with an injury and a facemask penalty.

Without him in the lineup, the Steelers have been limited primarily to relying upon a second-year former sixth-round draft pick with limited playing experience and an undrafted rookie who was just called up from the practice squad, in addition, of course, to rookie third-round pick Javon Hargrave.

But Tuitt looked to be no worse for wear either for his knee or for the snaps that he had to play, which is obviously an excellent sign for them heading into Kansas City next week. They had an excellent day against the run and brought Moore down five times, and his play, even when not recording a statistic, was very much a component of that overall success.

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