The Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest issue on defense, I would argue for at least a few years now, has been the tackling. Once their greatest asset a decade ago when they were winning Super Bowls, this generation of defenders is remarkably talented but far less efficient in bringing down opposing ball-carriers.
There are generational differences between now and then, of course. The game is not prepared for in the same manner. Practice sessions are less frequent and less intense since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been in place. If you don’t practice tackling often enough, it can become an issue.
The Steelers are aware of this. And it is one of the reasons that they used yesterday’s practice session as one of their rare allowed practices in pads. “We are professionals, so we took the right approach and had a little bit where we had tackling drills”, starting safety Sean Davis told Chris Adamski.
“Coming to balance, closing the distance and everyone running to the ball. You’re not as sharp if you don’t practice it all the time. That’s where we are struggling at right now, so we’ve got to fix it”.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler struck the same note, especially after the number of long touchdown receptions they have given up over the past three weeks, many of which could have been prevented from scoring with improved tackling.
“We can’t afford to do that”, he said of the deep missed tackles. “We’re not going to win a world championship”, was his stark assessment of where he currently finds his team in a long-term projection. But the good news is that they have still been winning in the meantime, and they have time to work on it.
Now, as I’ve written before, I don’t know if the full breadth of the problem is even solvable. But I would like to think at least that it can be improved upon. Butler concedes that “we’re going to miss tackles. It happens”.
He wants to make sure that everybody is “running to the ball”, though that is not something that I believe has really been an issue. While there have been some instances of overrunning tackles, the biggest issue has simply been being unable to make the tackle.
Every player in the league, of course, is going to miss a tackle or two as long as they play enough. Over 1000 snaps, it is bound to happen sooner or later. The Steelers’ tackling issues go far beyond the rare instance, and go far beyond Ryan Shazier’s shouldn’t-have-even-been-there-in-the-first-place efforts. So it’s at least good to see an acknowledgement of the problem, even if I’m skeptical that much can be done about it.