We learned officially yesterday that the Pittsburgh Steelers will not have the services of Stephon Tuitt available to them tomorrow for the first time this season, ruled out with an elbow injury that he suffered in the team’s win against the Carolina Panthers last Thursday.
That’s a bit of a shame, because he has been playing some very good football lately, including against the Panthers. He officially only recorded two solo tackles in the game and no other traditional statistics, but his impact obviously extended beyond that.
One of his two official tackles came early in the game and resulted in a run stop, with Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey limited to a gain of just one yard on first and 10. Center Ryan Kalil attempted to downblock on him, but the defender quickly won inside, and Greg Van Roten at left guard failed to assist.
It was on the very next play that Tuitt’s pass rush helped to force Cam Newton into an early release for an incompletion. Lined up from the five technique, he worked right tackle Taylor Moton to the middle of the field before peeling back outside, getting an unimpeded path into the backfield. It was all the quarterback could do to prevent himself from getting leveled.
While he did not record a sack against the Panthers—he had one in each of the previous three games—he did get a change to bring Newton to the ground, albeit on a completed pass for 14 yards on second and eight.
On the play, he was isolated one-on-one against right guard Trai Turner and proceeded to use the bull rush to drive the three-time Pro Bowler back into the lap of his quarterback. This process was already in motion before Javon Hargrave’s push against Kalil forced Turner to trip over his center’s feet. Tuitt freed himself and brought Newton to the ground, though only after he got the ball out to Greg Olsen
The Steelers have been utilizing their defensive ends on stunts even more than they normally do in recent weeks and we saw that on Cameron Heyward’s second sack of the night. Again starting from the five-tech position, he stunted over to the far side of the A gap, and stood a good chance of gaining a sack for himself had Heyward not gotten McCaffrey one-on-one in pass protection, getting the better of Van Roten himself.
These plays in the pass rush are what the defense will miss with Tyson Alualu in the lineup tomorrow, though their veteran backup is a very capable player. There’s just no duplicating the results that functionally-applied athleticism can produce.