It’s fair to say through at least the vast majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ greatest success, both in the 1970s and in the 2000s, the primary catalyst for their ability to remain on top rested on the fact that they played very good defense. The second half of their 70s dynasty may have become more balanced with the offense beginning to shoulder the load, but generally speaking, in Pittsburgh, defense won them championships.
And if that’s the rule that must be followed in order to get it done for the Steelers, then it’s hard to be confident in their prospects for 2019 as we sit here today, coming off of a season in which they went 9-6-1 in very large part because the defense failed to hold leads in the majority of their losses or ties.
And you can bet the defense takes that to heart, especially their leaders, young or old. T.J. Watt told Mike Prisuta for example, “we want everyone on our team to trust the defense, to be able to trust us in key situations like that”, referring to late-game closeout scenarios. “You don’t have to be on the edge of your seat, we’re going to make that stop”.
Curiously enough, that was exactly what they did in the one game more than any other that one would think they would fail, that being the late-season 17-10 victory over the New England Patriots. The defense was able to hold Tom Brady out of the end zone on multiple fourth-quarter drives, one of which ended in a red-zone interception by Joe Haden.
But the defense blew leads in the two games before that, and the one after as well. They held a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns in a game that ended in a draw—in part because they blocked a field goal at the end of overtime.
The only games that they failed to win in which they did not hold at least a share of the lead in the fourth quarter were in the first quarter of the season, in losses to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Two and the Baltimore Ravens in Week Four. Both games were tied at halftime, however.
This unit might aspire to be that sort of closeout group that can be a huge part of a championship team, but they showed the exactly opposite the majority of the time in 2018, and it’s hard to anticipate different results until we see what changes might be made in the interim.
I know one thing, and that is that Watt can be an important piece of that puzzle. He already has a few late-game strip sacks under his belt, even going back to last season in a win over the Ravens, not to mention the blocked field goal. Line up 11 Watt brothers and you might be on to something.