Coaches can only do so much to coach their players and put them in the best positions to succeed, which includes their mentality. Unless Jacoby Jones is returning a kick down the sideline, you can’t play for them. The players are the ones on the field, and they will ultimately do what they feel is best.
After Sunday’s game, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers recorded six sacks to establish a new franchise record with 56 on the season, outside linebacker Bud Dupree acknowledged that that is what the defense was playing for—or at least one of the things.
And that it probably is one of the reasons why they allowed the Cleveland Browns to have as much success as they did.
The third-year player told Chris Adamski that, in the reporter’s words, “there were times today Steelers defenders freelanced in order to try to go for a sack”. Watching the game at face value, that claim is certainly believable.
“I feel like that’s why we gave up so many yards; we were focused on that sack record”, he told Adamski. Particularly in the second half—after recording four sacks in the first—the defense allowed rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer to make a number of plays, scrambling out of the pocket, even converting on third and 15 because they did not maintain their gap integrity.
Bud Dupree said there were times today Steelers defenders freelanced in order to try to go for a sack.
“I feel like that’s why we gave up so many yards; we were focused on that (team) sack record.”
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) December 31, 2017
Had this been a more meaningful game, this would be a lot more upsetting, and chances are this would have happened a lot less than it did, but at the end of the day, they not only got the record, they got the win. No harm, no foul, in my estimation, provided that there is no carry-over into the postseason.
As I mentioned in an earlier article after the game, the Steelers got six sacks from five different contributors, with Cameron Heyward’s replacement, Tyson Alualu, leading the way with two. Inside linebackers Vince Williams and L.J. Fort each recorded one, the former notching his eighth of the year, while T.J. Watt added his seventh of the season and Sean Davis his first.
I’m sure defensive coordinator Keith Butler will not be too pleased to read Dupree’s quote, though no doubt he is already aware of the fact just by watching what his players were doing on the field. Kizer was allowed to scramble for 61 total yards on six rushes. The Browns were also able to convert on a few long down-and-distances opportunities with screen passes affected by a lack of gap integrity.
Gap integrity has been something that has wavered over the course of the season. There have been times that it has been very good, and others that it has been poor. Entering today’s game, they allowed 104 rushing yards from quarterbacks, largely on scrambles on 31 attempts. So Kizer’s showing was by far the worst for the defense. The rookie also recorded 17 yards on five carries with a touchdown in the season opener.