The Pittsburgh Steelers have the number one defense. At least in theory, according to Stephon Tuitt. And there is only one thing preventing them from achieving that in actuality: consistency. It was the messaged that he preached recently as he reflected back on the season that was and the failure that resulted in them missing the postseason for the first time since 2013.
“We have to play with more consistency. To be there for everyone. To help. To make sure the machine is running all of the time”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website. While the defense statistically posted fine numbers in most categories, or usually no worse than average, they failed in two major areas: creating turnovers and protecting leads.
Only two teams had fewer turnovers than the Steelers. They were the only team with such a negative turnover differential to actually post a winning record last season. Turnovers can play a critical role, such as Joe Haden’s interception against the New England Patriots.
A couple of turnovers could have fixed the other problem as well. In their seven games in which they lost or tied, they held the lead or shared it at some point in the fourth quarter. Often, they led late, only for the defense to give it up in the final minutes. Sometimes even after the offense authored a comeback drive.
Consistency, from game to game, from quarter to quarter, from play to play, is how you hold up on defense for 60 minutes. It’s how you start fast and finish fast, without slipping or needing to warm up or not being able to close.
“Overall consistency. The game, week in and week out”, Tuitt said of what it is going to take for the team to get back on track defensively. “You have to have the mindset week in and week out that we are going to win every game. The consistency to prepare for that”.
The defense does have some talent, and potential. Tuitt himself is very good with the potential to be better—with more consistency. His fellow linemates Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave are up there as well. T.J. Watt is beginning to blossom as young star. Then there’s Haden at cornerback, and the potential for growth from the young safety pairing.
“I really feel we are the number one defense. To be that, potential needs to go out the window”, he warned. “We need to just be consistent. We need to create more splash plays. If we do those things, we can and will be the number one defense”.
Hopefully the additions of Steven Nelson and Mark Barron, and perhaps one or two 2019 contributors from the draft, will be able to help the defense achieve that goal. Because if they can play in that fashion on that side of the ball, the offense surely can hold up its end of the bargain—on most days.