I write this article not as a positive or negative. Just reality.
Consider what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense did Monday night as a best-case scenario for most games this season. It’s not all their fault. This is a league where you can’t get grass stains on the quarterback’s jersey without being mandated to send him a gift basket for it. But it’s a defense that’s clearly undermanned, overwhelmed, and losing Mike Hilton for potentially some length of time isn’t helping matters.
What you saw against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the best you can hope for in any given game. Allow yards. A. Lot. Of. Yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 411 of them and another three scores, the defense nearly blowing a 20 point lead, a would-be franchise record.
What made this defense a success, or something close resembling to it anyway, were two factors: splash plays and situational football.
Pittsburgh’s defense forced four first half turnovers, the first time that’s happened in more than eight years. Sure, some of those were gifts, but they still took advantage and I’m not going to hold that against them. Even when the Tampa Bay drove the ball, they finished just 2/5 in the red zone.
So here’s the bottom line. This defense is going to give up some plays. Big ones. But if they can create just enough splash and hold firm when they absolutely have to, third down and red zone, they’ll manage to keep the offense and this team in games. That’s how I’d describe yesterday.
The cornerback situation isn’t going to get resolved this season – opposite Joe Haden, it’s a dumpster fire. Terrell Edmunds is going to see a lot of action on the field and take his lumps as a rookie. The pass rush isn’t quite there to mask the problems in coverage. And Keith Butler isn’t scheming things up well enough to do that either; you guys know how I currently feel about him.
It’s not to say that the Steelers will allow nearly 30 points in every game. There will be the occasional A+, well, more likely A-, performance. One where they hold say, Oakland to ten points in Week 14. Something like that.
But the best thing they can do, on the whole, is to provide that splash. Give the offense one or, if I’m being greedy, two short fields, as they did versus Tampa. Make the big-time stand to close things out.
If you were building a defense, I’ll let you in on the worst-kept secret, this ain’t it. This unit is going to make you hold your breath virtually every time the quarterback drops back or heaves it deep. They’re going to make you tear your hair out, raise your blood pressure, and break your TV. That’s a given. Accept it.
Plan for that new TV. I recommend checking the Black Friday sales.
Change the goal from perfection. Aim lower. Aim so low you can limbo under the bar. Put faith in this defense not being great, or good, or sometimes even “meh,” but opportunistic enough to make a play. And let the offense do the rest. That, to me, is a realistic expectation.