There is a reason that we have a missed tackles report around here on a weekly basis. And there is also a reason that it has been a more recent phenomenon, because, believe or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers used to be the best tackling defense in the league. Now, as we have talked about previously, a good case can be made that they are the worst.
Sure, there are some qualifiers in there. The Steelers have some athletic defenders like Ryan Shazier whose ‘missed’ tackles that a normal defender would not even be in a position to attempt create opportunities for other defenders to come in and make, or finish, the play. That much is surely true.
But that only accounts for a fraction of the missed tackles, and there is no evidence that it has been getting better over the years. As much as Sean Davis has improved over the course of the past several games, his tackling has not, as just one example.
This is why head coach Mike Tomlin went off a bit yesterday during his press conference, still stewing over the tackles that were missed during his team’s 40-17 blowout victory from several days earlier. And frankly, I think it was good to see him still fired up over that and talking about it.
It’s at least better than ignoring it. But all the talk in the world is not going to clean up the tackling, either, which is largely a unit-wide issue. Very few players are immune to the problem. Cameron Heyward is easily their most consistent tackler on the unit, perhaps followed by Vince Williams, though even he has his misses.
Pretty much everybody else has been made to look quite foolish a time or two just in recent weeks on missed tackles. All of the outside linebackers who have had a significant amount of playing time have also had a significant amount of missed tackles, including rookie T.J. Watt and everybody’s favorite underdog, Anthony Chickillo.
The secondary? Joe Haden has really solidified the coverage, but he’s sure fit in with the missed tackles as well, though at least he makes the effort consistently, unlike Artie Burns on the flip side. Mike Hilton out of the slot is their most consistent tackler on the back end, and he still has a handful as well, including a couple of misses at the back end of long passes.
“We’re not going to be a dominant group until we minimize big plays and we tackle better”, Tomlin said during his press conference. “We gave up a big play the first play of the second half. We gave up a couple big plays in Indy”.
“We’re missing tackles on big plays and allowing people to score”, he pointed out, which has occurred multiple times in recent games, since Kansas City. “We have to give our red zone defense a chance to operate by making some of those tackles”.
Unfortunately, there is no easy fix, nor midseason band-aid. The Steelers are arguably the most physical unit in training camp, yet that hasn’t translated to improved tackling efficiency. Frankly, I don’t think that there is an answer here. It’s just something they have to work around. Which is sad, considering how surehanded a unit this once was a decade ago.