As you can probably imagine, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin still isn’t very happy about his defense giving up three explosive play touchdowns to the Green Bay Packers Sunday night at Heinz Field. In fact, he made sure to once again address that topic early during his Tuesday press conference.
“Like we’ve been talking the last several weeks, we’ve been having hiccups on defense in terms of giving up explosion plays and it’s preventing us from being dominant,” Tomlin explained. “But it goes beyond that. It’s putting us in positions where we could lose games. So, those things, like I mentioned after the game, have to disappear yesterday. It’s not one particular guy, it’s popcorn. It’s happening here and there and in different circumstances and situations and what it tells me is that we’ve got to continue to coach, we’ve got to continue to gain understanding relative to our assignments within calls.
“We’ve got to continue to develop an understanding about game circumstances and situations. Many of these downs can be won above the neck. Forget what you do physically, having an understanding about how people attack you and when people attack you is an element of that for us. Well work on those things and others. Some of our warts are less noticeable but we acknowledge them nonetheless and requires work for us.”
The big play warts have obviously been noticeable the last several weeks as the Steelers defense has allowed five touchdown passing plays of 50 yards or longer in their last three games. Sunday night against the Packers, cornerbacks Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh were both beaten for long touchdowns and the entire defense also allowed a seemingly harmless running back screen pass to go 54-yards for another touchdown.
On Tuesday, Tomlin was asked to differentiate between the amount of poor play by individuals and the lack of communication in the secondary as to the roles each has played in those big touchdown plays.
“It’s irrelevant,” Tomlin said while laughing. “It really is and what I mean is, it’s all of the above. It’s not just physical errors, it’s above-the-neck ball because these plays are occurring in situations where we have clues. Game situations, down and distance, field position. Communication aids in that area as we all prepare and look at ways in which people can attack us.
“So, it might be one man that’s physically getting beat on some of those plays, but if we’re all doing a good job of communicating information that we know based on preparation and sharing that information within the group, we have an opportunity to help individuals that may lack a little information. So, that’s what I mean when I say it’s all of the above, man.”
Monday night in Cincinnati the Steelers defense will face a Cincinnati Bengals offense that has only been able to produce 25 pass plays resulting in 20 yards or more all season. However, only one of those plays, a short completion over the middle from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to wide receiver Alex Erickson for 22 yards, came against the Steelers in the first meeting between the two teams earlier this season.
“We’re collectively responsible for keeping a lid on it and that’s just how I view it,” Tomlin said Tuesday.
It will be interesting to see if the Steelers defense can keep a lid on their big play warts Monday night against the Bengals. While the Steelers have managed to win their last six games despite giving up a 22 total explosive plays, nine of which were double-explosive or more, they can’t continue to expect that to happen and especially not against a team like the Bengals.