While the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been playing better as a whole over the course of the past three games—a would-be game-winning drive allowed against the Cincinnati Bengals from a couple of weeks ago notwithstanding—it goes without saying that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The good news is that some of that work needing doing is beginning to happen, perhaps most encouraging being the improved play from the defensive interior, especially from Stephon Tuitt, who got off to a bit of a slow start but is coming on over the course of the past few games.
That now includes sacks in consecutive games, his first two on the season, and he has also registered a combined 12 tackles during that span. That gives him 29 tackles on the year, which is already more than he had in 12 games last year, and eight off of his total from 2016 in 14 games.
Tuitt is still trying to not only live up to his giant contract that he signed just before the start of last season, but also his impressive sophomore year in which he posted career-highs of 54 tackles and six and a half sacks to go along with an interception.
Hopefully his showing against the Bengals and the Cleveland Browns over the past two games is an indication of the direction that he is heading as the Steelers enter the second half of their season, with an AFC North-best 4-2-1 record.
Said running mate Cameron Heyward, “Tuitt’s got all the keys, and I thought he played very dominantly today”, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought he was powerful, strong on his point of attacks, and we need him to keep doing that. He is a wrecking ball when he gets going”.
Tuitt was able to register several pressures on Baker Mayfield, hitting him at least once in addition to the sack, and forced the rookie quarterback out of the pocket on other occasions. But he also played well against the run. He had five run tackles that registered as defensive stops, including a couple for lost yardage.
Oh, and he also had a sack that was negated by a defensive holding penalty on Joe Haden. That is honestly at least the third or fourth sack that he has had taken away due to an unrelated penalty over the course of the past three years.
Perhaps the most important thing for me when it comes to Tuitt this year is the fact that he has been doing a better job of finishing tackles. Pro Football Focus doesn’t credit him with any missed tackles so far this year, though our own numbers have him with three, which is good.