The Pittsburgh Steelers were never in a good position two weeks ago in their loss to the Cleveland Browns, and they ultimately ended up losing 21-7. Things could have gone differently in the past two games, as well. They trailed 7-3 against the Cincinnati Bengals at the half, and 10-0 midway through the second against the Browns yesterday.
Obviously it fell upon the offense to get things jumpstarted, but the defense tamping down and shutting things out as the game wore on was key in both of those victories. It’s something that has become a part of the unit’s identity, understanding that it’s expected of them week in and week out to play lights-out football in crunch time. They don’t get down when they’re losing. They get greedy.
“I just feel like we never give up hope. We never feel like we’re out of it. We always feel like someone’s gonna make the play instead of someone messing it up”, Joe Haden, who had the game-sealing interception, said after the game.
“We just have so many guys out here that feel like, ‘man, let’s get back out there, let’s make a play, let’s strip sack, let’s get a pick’”, he went on. “You never feel like you’re out of the game until it’s 0:00 on the clock”.
The defense has made some big plays to close out games this year. Minkah Fitzpatrick also had a game-sealing interception earlier this year, and that came off of a pass defensed by Haden, if memory serves. Last week, it was a strip sack and recovery, all by Bud Dupree, that provided the final chapter.
“That’s the way we’ve got to play”, said defensive captain Cameron Heyward, who is the longest-tenured member of the Steelers defense, now in year nine. “We need a whole bunch of guys to step up. It doesn’t matter who it comes from. But we’ve got to play as defense that’s stingy and doesn’t give up a lot of points”.
It was Haden and Dupree again, the latter forcing his second fumble in as many weeks, with Heyward recovering. Against the Bengals, Fitzpatrick also had a fumble recovery after rookie linebacker Devin Bush was able to punch the ball out at the end of an explosive play.
You could call it a bend but don’t break defense, but overall, this unit isn’t really bending all that much, either. They have their situational failings, sure, and the run game can run hot and cold. But there’s no doubt this is both one of the most talented and most effective units in the NFL right now. And the Steelers wouldn’t be close to where they are currently without them playing to this level.