Film Room: Defense Getting Closer To Ball In Air

One thing that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has struggled to do with consistency this season has been playing the man rather than looking back for the ball while in coverage. Or even more generally, simply making plays on the ball. While they have had intermittent success doing this in one game or another, it has been hot and cold.

In three of their six games played, they had zero or one passes defensed. In the other three, they have had at least five, and that included last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, four of which I will talk about below (the fifth will be talked about in a later article).

The only two defensive backs who have consistently shown the ability to make plays on the ball are Joe Haden and Mike Hilton, so it’s no surprise that they account for three of the four plays featured here. Unfortunately for Haden, his first pass defensed would be a dropped pass if he were a wide receiver. He read A.J. Green well to know when the ball would arrive and was in position to intercept the pass, but he simply couldn’t hang on.

Hilton got himself a big pass defensed in the second quarter, the Bengals facing a third and five. Tyler Boyd had been among the best receivers in the league on possession downs, but Hilton did an excellent job of getting his arm between Boyd’s to prevent him from making this reception that would have gone for a conversion.

After registering seven a year ago, T.J. Watt got his first pass defensed of the season, also coming against Boyd. In Boyd’s defense, this pass was thrown behind him, but the outside linebacker was still in good position on the play. He was initially going to play over his front shoulder to swat the ball, but when it came in wide, he instead belatedly tried to adjust for a basket catch that he would have needed two hands for.

Haden got his second pass defensed of the game in the fourth quarter, still working against Green. Once again, he read the receiver’s eyes to determine when to turn around, and he was able to pop up to bat the ball away. This one came on third and 15.

Cameron Sutton also notched a pass defensed, as did Jon Bostic, as the defense held an opposing offense to under 300 yards for the first time all season. Let’s hope that this is a trend that continues coming out of the bye week. They won or tied all three games in which they had five or more passes defensed, by the way.

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