The Pittsburgh Steelers rank sixth in the league in terms of points allowed. That is the biggest reason that they are 8-6 right now with a chance to reach the postseason if they win their final two games. They are allowing 18.5 points per game, but since Week Four, they have whittled that down to 15.82 points per game. That would rank second in the league.
The defense has held their opponents to 17 points or fewer in eight of 14 games this season. The Steelers are 7-1 in those games, with the only loss coming on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, in which effort the offense only scored 10 points to Buffalo’s 17.
Even though the defense got two turnovers, including one that put the offense in scoring position, their five giveaways proves to be the critical difference, as they were only able to find the end zone once on the night.
There is an axiom that you will be in any game if your defense can hold your opponent to 17 points or fewer, and boy does this season prove that. In addition to being 7-1 in such games, they are 1-5 in games in which their opponents score more than 17. But there are times when 17 still isn’t enough, and the defense is still shouldering the blame, voluntarily, for Sunday’s loss.
“Was it good enough to win?”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler asked rhetorically when asked if he has to amend the scoring standard based on their opponents’ defense. “We didn’t hold them to enough points for us to win. It would have been satisfying if we held them to nine, but we didn’t. Is 17 a shot for us? Yes, it is always a shot for us. But if we don’t win it doesn’t matter”.
This is especially so because the Steelers held a 10-7 lead entering the fourth quarter. Buffalo scored not only the game-tying field goal but added a game-winning touchdown drive in the final frame on a drive that traveled 70 yards and opened with a 40-yard connection to John Brown following the Heinz Field rendition of Renegade.
The offense still had multiple chances to come back from that, but costly turnovers proved to be fatal. This is what Mike Tomlin has been talking about when he mentions complementary football. All phases of the game have to prop up one another and have to provide what is needed when called upon. They didn’t do that on Sunday. They have to tomorrow.