One of the biggest problems that the defense has had all season is something that Alex Kozora has been harping on, and that is a lack of ball skills. We are not just talking about the ability to catch a pass and record an interception, of course. What we are referring to in this instance is a defensive back displaying the capability of consistently contesting throws at the catch point.
At this point in the year, it’s hard to say that anybody in the secondary is doing that consistently, even Joe Haden, who missed a big opportunity late working against Joe Haden by a narrow margin, and Mike Hilton, who slipped in the end zone on the game-winning play on fourth down with 25 seconds to go.
Coty Sensabaugh and Terrell Edmunds are the weak links in this facet of the game, and the former doesn’t have the excuse of youth and inexperience on his side. But it’s not even just the secondary. It’s about the linebackers too, and I put L.J. Fort in there as well. He recorded five passes defensed down the stretch last year in limited playing time. How is it that he has none this season?
The inability to contest combative catches was a big them in Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders, who capitalized on a number of such instances in big moments, whether it was creating an explosive play down the field or just making a key conversion.
This was one of Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s main observations in the aftermath of the game, which he talked about yesterday during his pre-game press conference heading into the critical Sunday showdown at Heinz Field against the New England Patriots.
“We also acknowledge that Oakland made some plays and we would be less than professional if we didn’t tip our caps to Derek Carr and that group”, Tomlin said. “Man, he made some really, really tough combative throws and they made some tough combative catches. We have to do a better job of finishing things at the point of attack”.
It doesn’t matter who was in the game, everybody was failing in this department, though the worst offender was Morgan Burnett. Even the big pass deflection he had late in the game only counted because the officially did not flag him for locking up the tight end’s arm.
“We were in position for a lot of those plays. They made the combat catches and we didn’t, and so there’s obviously consequences of that”, Tomlin summarized. “The consequences are we lost the game”.