One of the biggest differences for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far this year in comparison to last season, and really in recent years generally, has been the quality of performance of the secondary. While they don’t have eye-popping statistical numbers—outside of eight interceptions, third-most in the league—their play-to-play performance has been pretty consistently solid.
That is largely the byproduct of being able to add talent like Steven Nelson in free agency at cornerback, and then having the opportunity to acquire first-round safety Minkah Fitzpatrick via trade during the middle of the regular season. There have been some weak spots, to be sure, but the secondary has played quality ball.
And his players want to credit Teryl Austin, such as Mike Hilton, who talked to Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the team’s new defensive backs coach (who works in tandem with Tom Bradley or so it is said).
“He’s played against some top offenses and been successful, so having a guy with that type of pedigree in your room and constantly him being in your ear about your technique, just having a real good coach, it’s been good for us in the secondary”, Hilton said.
The Steelers signed Austin, a local product who has done the rounds around the league as a defensive coordinator, in the offseason to be a senior defensive assistant with an emphasis on secondary. He is a supplement of Bradley as the formal defensive backs coach, but also serves other roles, such as assisting in game-time situations like replay challenges. But his biggest impact is on the practice field.
Hilton said that having a coach like Austin, who has extensive history in the NFL, “is big for us” as a secondary full of young players—pretty much every body outside of Joe Haden. They have two second-year starting safeties, Hilton is a third-year guy, and Nelson is in his fifth year. “As you can see, we’ve been playing well these last couple games”.
While they did allow 316 passing yards to Philip Rivers in their last game, the majority of that came late in the game. They came a little too close for comfort to letting them back in the game, but Cameron Sutton was able to shut the door with an interception to end the threat. They only allowed 241 combined passing yards in the two games before that.
The Steelers hired Bradley to be their defensive backs coach in 2018. He had extensive work at the college level, mostly at Penn State, but had never worked at the professional level before. Players talked about him that Spring about being very fundamentally-oriented, but Tomlin obviously felt the need to bring in a coach with more NFL experience. So far, that appears to have been a good decision.