While a lot of people are paying attention to ‘Duck Season’, the real story of 2019 for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been the defense, and there is no question that that side of the ball—as it should—has been carrying this team over the course of the past two months, helping them to a 7-1 record in that span and now in position to make a run at the playoffs.
It’s been a while since the offense has had to come back late and win a game, or so it seems. More often, it’s been the offense being unable to close out a game and needing the defense to come in and seal the deal. They already have several game-ending turnovers leading to perfunctory victory formation snaps.
Joe Haden has gotten two in the past two weeks. Bud Dupree shut a game down with a sack fumble. Minkah Fitzpatrick sealed a game earlier in the year with an interception. Frankly, had it not been for a nonsense defensive pass interference penalty, they would have ended the game against the Indianapolis Colts a lot more smoothly as well without them gaining a yard.
The defense had a more difficult time sealing games during the first month of the season. But those were against better teams, and took some offensive turnovers to make it happen as well. During their winning ways, guys like T.J. Watt have been the ones sending the Steelers home winners. They have been having repeated success now in this role. Why?
“I think we’re prepared for it”, Cameron Heyward said in the locker room after the game. “We expect to have it all on our backs, and time and time again, we stepped up. T.J. had a pick. Joe had two picks. We got sacks when we needed to. Sometimes you just need them, and we got them”.
“This team is ball-ready”, he added. “We look for those moments because we like it when it’s all on us”.
It’s been all on them since Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury in the first half of the second game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks. He and the Killer Bs had been carrying the team for years, the defense just trying not to get in the way, but this season has offered a stunning role reversal.
And it’s about time. Even with the loss of Stephon Tuitt, this is still a unit stocked with talent, from Watt and Dupree to Heyward and Fitzpatrick, Haden and Steven Nelson, Devin Bush, Javon Hargrave, and basically everybody else who sees the field. They’ve all been doing their job.
And that’s why the Steelers have been one of the best teams in football over the past two months. But now they have to close out the season, including two games against potentially playoff-bound opponents in the Buffalo Bills, who are still alive for the AFC East, and the Baltimore Ravens.