There aren’t a lot of ways this season, statistically, in which you can argue that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense this year is better than the group that they had a year ago. They may have done a better job of keeping a lid on the deep passing game, but the lack of turnovers, the points scored, and the late-game failures have been a real burden that has helped shape their as of now 8-6-1 season.
It’s pretty hard to muster up a better defense when you lost your best defensive player, of course, that being Ryan Shazier. But defensive coordinator Keith Butler has seen improvements in his unit as the season has progressed, even through losses.
“I think they have been more competitive, yes, especially with the last two teams we played”, he told reporters yesterday, per the team’s communications department. “We felt like playing these last two teams that we played, they were two of the better teams in the League and if we can hold our own with those guys we would prepare ourselves to try and get into the playoffs”.
The Steelers did indeed encounter their two biggest tests, at least on paper, over the past two weeks. They had to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots two games ago, though it was at home, and they were able to hold their nemesis to 10 points, including a big late-game stop.
On Sunday, they were up against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in their own dome. While the overall performance certainly could have been worse—and a bad pass interference penalty in the first half spotted them seven points—it was another game in which they gave up the lead at the end.
Last season, they did a bit of a better job of preserving late leads, but the offense also did a better job of getting comebacks. The combined failures in these two departments has been arguably the main difference between 13 wins and eight and a half wins, with the possibility of nine and a half.
For Butler, however, he said see some things that the defense has done better this year as opposed to last year. Of course he didn’t go into much of any detail. And he hastened to add, “we aren’t good enough. We are what we are”.
While the defense certainly has some personnel shortcomings, it hasn’t just been the players on the field that have led to the shaky performances of 2018. Butler has been the first to acknowledge that the coaching could have been better. It wouldn’t be a complete shock if the team chose to move on from him this offseason.