The Pittsburgh Steelers only allowed 43 explosive plays through the air last season, which was the seventh-fewest in the league, many of them coming in the first two weeks of the season before they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Only two teams had fewer than 40. Their six plays of 40-plus yards was fifth-fewest.
This year, they have already allowed two plays of 40 or more yards, which is tied for the third-most, and their seven explosive plays allowed through the air is tied for the 10th-most. It’s a small sample size, but the defense realizes that it’s giving up more than they want to.
Two of those explosive plays so far have been touchdown passes, including one to Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant on Sunday, working against Devin Bush on the inside in coverage. Earlier today, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that they missed a blitz on the play.
Fitzpatrick would later expand on the details of the play. While he didn’t mention a failed blitz, he did say that they put Bush in a tough spot, and that they adjusted that call after the touchdown, noting that the adjustment worked better, as they were deploying that coverage often and the Broncos were pushing it.
“They schemed it up pretty well again”, he told reporters. “They saw that we had a three-way and a linebacker in coverage on the inside. They just had a good route combination that pushed one vertical. They brought number three in an out-breaking route, and he was breaking away from Devin’s leverage”.
“They hit it multiple times, because it’s something that we run a lot. We made an adjustment to it later in the game”, he continued, “but the other side of the ball gets paid as well to make plays. There are some things that we could’ve done better, of course, but like I said, they get paid as well to go make those plays. It was just another schematic thing. It wasn’t mismatch or anything like that. We put Devin in a tough situation. And he wasn’t even in terrible position. it was just a tough play on him”.
The Steelers have given up four touchdowns through the air so far this season, but so has just over half of the league, and only 10 have allowed fewer than three. They are also one of only three teams not to have been scored on from the ground. They currently rank sixth in scoring defense.
But as we’ve seen through the first two weeks, there are certainly some things that can be cleaned up. This is perhaps the most talented defensive unit the team has had in a decade, and the pass rush in particular has been relentless, but if they can button up a few issues that crop up here and there, this side of the ball alone will be winning a few games for them.