It wasn’t so long ago that it was the Killer Bs who stirred the Pittsburgh Steelers’ drink. By the second half of the second game of 2019, however, all three of them were gone, at least for the time being, in the case of Ben Roethlisberger, the last man standing.
With Le’Veon Bell in New York, Antonio Brown currently out of the league, Jaylen Samuels about to miss a month, and their three primary skill position players banged up in some way—JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Vance McDonald, not to mention James Washington and Donte Moncrief—increasingly emphasis has been placed, and appropriately so, on the team’s rising defense.
Stocked with first-round talent, much of it homegrown through the likes of Devin Bush, Terrell Edmunds, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Cameron Heyward, the defense has slowly but surely begun to show the signs of an impact unit, producing a league-high 12 turnovers through the first five weeks, while also being among the league leaders in sacks and pressures.
While there certainly remains room for improvement, particularly in situational play on third down and in the fourth quarter, it’s becoming increasingly obvious given the circumstances of current offensive play—not limited to the injuries at quarterback—that it will be required for the defense to step up and hoist the sails of this ship for the time being, if they intend to go anywhere.
“I’m just looking for wins, and leaning on the collective strength of our group in all three phases”, Mike Tomlin said earlier today during his pre-game press conference, “and because we’ve got more regulars available to us in that phase of our football team, it’s reasonable to expect those guys to carry the charge, if you will”.
The Steelers are expected to head into their next game with Devlin Hodges, a rookie undrafted free agent who wasn’t on the initial 53-man roster or practice squad, under center. That is after Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury, the trade of Joshua Dobbs, and now the concussion that Mason Rudolph is currently dealing with.
Given that and the other injuries being dealt with, whether through play or on the sidelines, on the offensive side of the ball, Tomlin said of his defensive unit, “I think that they understand that there’s a heightened urgency on their performance based on current circumstances, and that’s what team is about, and team sports are about”.
It’s also been reflected in the way that they talk about splash plays. Even though they’ve gotten 12 turnovers, the offense has struggled to get into the end zone off of them, even when given a short field, so rather than lamenting that fact, defenders have talked about the need to score themselves. They have yet to produce a defensive touchdown, though Bush nearly had one a couple of weeks ago.