So many games, and increasingly so it seems, can come down to just one play. Make this play, and the game is over. Make any play, and that’s it. This year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not been making that play, and the defense is taking that to heart. They have lost three of their last four games, by a combined nine points.
“In critical moments, we’ve got to be able to get off the field”, Mike Hilton told Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the need to step up during “crunch time”. Cameron Heyward, the captain of the unit, added, “we’ve got to shut that down”.
“Those were points we didn’t need to give up”, he recalled of the end of Sunday’s game, an overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens scored a game-tying field goal in the waning moments to send it into overtime, where they later won. “We’ve got to make sure, even if a penalty does happen, we get off the field”.
And the penalty he’s referring to, of course, was the roughing the passer penalty that came on second down early on that game-tying drive, with second-year outside linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi being flagged. While it was questionable, and he was not fined for the hit, it’s nevertheless the responsibility of defensive players to avoid putting themselves in such positions that raise questions.
That was just this past week. Against the San Francisco 49ers, while an offensive fumble put the defense in terrible position, first and 10 from the 24-yard line, they were unable to keep the 49ers out of the end zone. They converted on third and one.
And then they seemingly did make the play. On third and 11, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a pass in the end zone that Cameron Sutton was able to defend. It was fourth down, and they would have to settle for a game-tying field goal instead. But Mark Barron was flagged for defensive holding. First and goal from the nine. Two plays later, they scored.
Go back another week, when they hosted the Seattle Seahawks. You know the play I’m going to talk about. Third and 16, from the Steelers’ 48-yard line. They allowed Russell Wilson to not only escape the pocket but scramble for 15 yards.
While they were leading, 28-26, at that time, the decision to go for it on fourth and one from the Steelers’ 33 was an easy one to make. Chris Carson converted, and the game was over. The offense never touched the ball again.
This is not to absolve the offense by any means, but the defense understands. They can only control the plays they’re out there on the field for. Not only that, they want to be great. They want to make these decisive plays. They’re making a lot of them in the first 50 minutes or so. It’s the end-of-game situations so far that have been the biggest nuisance.