We’re four weeks into the regular season. The time for excuses are over. Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense struggles to do things as basic as making substitutions. Yes, there were plenty of injuries during training camp and plenty of new additions that made life a little difficult. But it’s four weeks. And it’s getting ridiculous.
To be clear, the blame falls on squarely on one unit: coaching.
For the third time this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were called for too many men on the field. Three times. Four games. Let’s look at what happened each time.
The first instance could’ve cost the Steelers their Week One tie. 24 seconds left, Cleveland just looking to spike the football. Coaches are trying to sub out Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward. Tuitt comes off but Heyward, recognizing it’s a spike, remains on the field. The Steelers sub anyway, rushing Javon Hargrave onto the field, and they get flagged.
That gave Cleveland an extra five yards to march into field goal range though the Browns blew it by throwing a pick the next play. The play went without consequences. So it happens two weeks later.
The Tampa game was a mess. 1st and 10, Tampa Bay driving and looking to climb back into the game (which they did). Steelers are attempting to switch out of their dime defense, the previous play was a converted 4th and 6. There’s confusion, clearly, with both nickel corner Cam Sutton and nose tackle Daniel McCullers remaining on the field. Yup, that’s 12 men, and they’re flagged.
Sutton is taken off the field the next play as the Steelers correctly stay in their base 3-4.
But that wasn’t the only time in the game they were called or almost called. Think that stuff would be cleaned up the rest of the game? Nope. Bucs final drive of the game, Steelers wanting to switch from nickel to dime on 2nd and 10.
Nat Berhe apparently doesn’t call Jon Bostic off as he takes the field. It’s not until Vince Williams does a quick count and realizes Bostic’s gotta go and he rushes him off the sideline at the last second, narrowly avoiding another call. It was player bailing out coaches here.
Then there’s Baltimore. Another mess. The too many men field call, turning a 3rd and 11 into a 3rd and 6, which they converted on a shallow cross they could run because of the shorter field.
This one bothers me the most. The confusion stems from the Steelers still trying to run their dime package after dimebacker Berhe left the game with a pec injury. Coaches send both Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh as part of that dime package.
But *sigh* no one takes Bostic off the field. So it’s 12 men, all because the coaches couldn’t figure out their plan responding to an injury, flying in the face of the “next man up” mentality they preach, which should include how the whole defense functions after injury, not just individual replacement. Besides, it’s not like it’s a new idea; Bostic always comes off in dime.
The thing I hate the most? How oblivious LITERALLY EVERYONE is. Check Bostic. Check Burns and Sensabaugh. Check the rest of the defense. Check the coaches along the sideline. No one realizes it. They’re bopping around, ready for the play.
At least on some of the others, there was a last-second realization of the problem. In the first Tampa example, Bostic tried to call timeout but didn’t get it off in time. Here, it’s business as usual, as if 12 men on the field is totally part of the plan.
The next play, Bostic is removed.
Of course, that’s not the last time problems arose. 93.7 The Fan’s Chris Mack pointed it out first on Twitter and I wanted to expand on it here. Ravens are subbing out running back Alex Collins for fellow runner Buck Allen. The Steelers, for some reason I can’t properly explain (the Ravens are in 12 personnel), want to go to their nickel defense, swapping out Cam Sutton for Javon Hargrave.
I’m not sure if they were responding to the change in personnel or were already planning on going to nickel. But it takes until there’s less than 20 seconds left on the playclock, nearly 15 seconds after Baltimore made their sub, for them to make the switch.
Joey Porter finally realizes they need to make the change, maybe after Keith Butler sent the play in, and they frantically make the switch. Wind up allowing the first down through the air, a 22 yard completion to Maxx Williams, leading to another Ravens’ field goal that essentially ended the game.
I wrote about the first example, the 12 men on the field against Cleveland, at the time, and was met with some blowback. But that was my concern going forward. That these problems wouldn’t be addressed, they wouldn’t be cleaned up, and it was a systemic problem.
And this defense can’t afford these types of problems. They’re barely hanging on when everything is going well from the information standpoint. Throw this whole mess in and everything crumbles apart.
This group is hanging on the edge of the cliff. And coaches are pushing them off.
If this can’t get fixed, then the defense simply has no chance. They can’t function with this consistent chaos. It’s on the coaches. Keith Butler, Mike Tomlin, they gotta fix it. These are problems that deserve consequences if not properly addressed. Absolutely no reason the Steelers get called for 12 men again in 2018. If it does, make Butler walk home.