There is a certain level of understanding when it comes to evaluating preseason games. In most cases, the players out on the field are not going to be out there, or at least your first options to be out there, in a game that actually means something. Often enough, there is not much pre-game preparation tailored to the opponent. It’s just a raw test of your players’ abilities and their cohesiveness.
Still, the defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers is not taking the 51-point score the Green Bay Packers put on them lightly, even if two touchdowns actually came courtesy of the offense, giving up a pair of interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
“Whoever is out there — and I’m not trying to make excuses — has to make those plays”, cornerback Joe Haden told Joe Rutter after practice. “At the same time, we’re not too worried about it. We still have to tighten up on the tackles and have better communication”.
Poor tackling and schematic breakdowns complicated by communication struggles have been an issue during the first two preseason games for the Steelers. Those are the two defensive issues that the team had focused on correcting this offseason. So far, no good.
“I’m going to be honest with you, 50 points is not something you ever want to give up, no matter who is out there”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. Neither he nor Haden, along with Sean Davis, T.J. Watt, and Mike Hilton, played for the team on Thursday night.
“A lot of it was technical mistakes”, Heyward advised. “If we don’t do that, we’re not going to get beat like that, whether it’s angles to the ball, being in man and not keeping your leverage or not tackling well. Those are things that contribute to a loss”.
These were the same sorts of things that he found himself saying a year ago after the defense would give up big plays after big plays, even though more often than not the team still found ways to win the game. But they can’t count on being so lucky two years in a row.
“When I watch a game, I don’t want to look at the points. I look at why we did it”, he said. “What can we do to get better? Is it something we can correct? If you can’t correct it, you shouldn’t be out there”.
Heyward and Haden expect to get a much different outing from the defense this week, when they and some of the other defensive starters who have not been playing will be out there for the first time. Adding Pro Bowlers to the lineup is certainly not going to hurt.