Despite Two Daggers, Defense Holds Up

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing game might have looked ugly today as a whole—and that is an easy perception to have when you give up two 60-plus-yard touchdown passes—but on a per-play basis, they actually played pretty well.

Of course, you have to account for the big plays allowed, both of which are easily attributable to obvious mistakes. Artie Burns got caught peaking in the backfield with single-high coverage behind him, allowing Donte Moncrief to run past him. In the second half, after Joe Haden left the game, Chester Rogers got free on a blown coverage, and then two tacklers missed, leading to the disaster.

Those are ugly marks against them for sure, and worse still, they counted on the scoreboard. It nearly cost them the game, just those two mistakes. They are quite fortunate that it did not result in their defeat, and that they can enter their next game with an impressive 7-2 record.

But the fact of the matter is that the defense didn’t let the Colts do much else outside of those two plays. They produced a net of 267 yards, which itself is not very good, and over 45 percent of that came on just those two plays.

Indianapolis averaged a very pedestrian 4.8 yards per play in total, but on all the other plays that did not result in back-breaking scores, they averaged just 2.7 yards. Frank Gore and Marlon Mack had a few good runs, but the former ended up with just 43 yards on 17 carries, and the latter seven yards on seven carries.

Through the air, Brissett went 14 for 24 for 222 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Outside of the two long plays, he completed 12 of 22 for 101 yards and an interception. The Colts’ longest play behind the two 60-plus yarders was a 16-yard reception by T.Y. Hilton, who was limited to just two catches on the day, and game against Coty Sensabaugh on a double move.

For a game in which the Steelers lost their starting cornerback, things could have gone a lot worse, even considering the competition. Just look at what Jacoby Brissett did to the Texans the week before. The second-year quarterback does have some talent, though it goes without saying that there is no excuse for this game being so close.

I’m fully aware that 97 percent of the replies to this article are going to at least strike the vein of “that’s just stupid” or “you can’t take those plays away”. Of course, I already addressed that. You can’t take them away. They’re on the scoreboard, after all.

But I do think this perspective is important when evaluating play-to-play performance, the point being that it wasn’t nearly as bad in this game as the two long plays would suggest. That doesn’t excuse that those two plays happened, or how or why they happened. That needs to be addressed.

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