If you look at the back of your milk carton, you may find a title labelled “MISSING” with an image of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense underneath. The defense is allowing 29 points per game, along with giving up the fourth most passing yards per game (304.8) and over 115 rushing yards per game. Although it seems at times, that the entire defense has been absent, one player in particular that has remained invisible to the naked eye and to the stat sheets is defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
After playing all of last season with a torn biceps, this season was supposed to be a breakout year for Tuitt. Finally, healthy and alongside line mate Cameron Heyward, many were eager to see what Tuitt could do with all the stars aligning in his favor. So far, the results have been disappointing. A quarter of the way through the season, the 25-year old defensive end has 15 tackles and zero sacks.
Here is where it gets more concerning, dating back to last season and including playoffs, Tuitt has recorded just one sack in his last eleven games.
Just where has Tuitt’s pass rush skills gone? His performance against the Buccaneers certainly showed that Tuitt can still get after the quarterback, displaying a prominent bull rush and falling just milliseconds short of a sack on the play below.
Tuitt still shows that he has the power to push back offensive linemen and the hands to use a swim move to get to the quarterback. Unfortunately, it just has not been consistent. A player who should be dominating one on ones, let’s take a look at what the Steelers have become more accustomed to seeing from Tuitt.
In a one on one matchup, the defensive end should have no reason to be stalled and kept at bay. The play above is especially a poor showing on Tuitt’s part as he offers no fight at all and is a non-factor. Tuitt needs to occupy a double team or at least win the one on ones consistently in order to not only produce himself but allow a better opportunity for T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. While the Steelers’ outside linebackers are not setting the world on fire, it is a lot harder to do so when your interior rushers are not performing to the best of their abilities as well.
For a player who signed a 6-year, $50 million contract extension last season, Tuitt is nowhere near playing at a $50 million level. The 25-year old defensive end came in as the 79th highest paid athlete in 2017 according to Forbes but yet you would find it hard to argue that Tuitt was even the 79th most productive player in the NFL.
Tuitt’s future cap implications dig deeper and deeper as the future approaches. Earlier this February, the Steelers converted $10.21 million of his base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus. This move will increase his cap hit by $2.042 million for the next four seasons. And while he accounts for only 3.1% of the Steelers cap this season, that number projects to rise to 7.2% and 6.8% over the next two seasons according to Over The Cap.
For a team like the Steelers who are still struggling to piece together their defense, this is a high percentage of their cap to a player who has not performed to his expectation. This is a player who was supposed to be a proven contributor but, in a defense full of chaos, Tuitt has been swept into the storm, joining a long line of individuals who are not performing up to par. This needs to change dramatically during the next quarter of the season as three of the Steelers next four games are against teams in their own division.