Complaints and criticisms sound a lot better when you have a winning record—especially when you’re undefeated. That’s the scenario the Pittsburgh Steelers are facing three games into their 2020 schedule. They have not lost a game yet, but they still seemingly have a laundry list of things that they want to improve upon in all phases of the game as the season progresses.
The offense, for example, has to cut down on three-and-out drives, as they actually have among the highest ratios of three-and-out drives in the league, though they also have a number of long drives, which has seen their average drive length settle in the middle of the pack.
Defensively, there are certainly areas to improve upon, and the element that defensive captain Cameron Heyward is most focused on going forward, as he told reporters earlier this week, is on working on communication. “Whether it’s technique from each position, communication can always improve. As the timing of the offense improves, you can improve the timing on the defense”, he said.
“Whether it’s the way you blitz, the way you can show, just your overall feel for it, I think you start to get into a rhythm after three or four games under your belt”, Heyward continued. “Guys start to show off their conditioning. It’s one thing to compete against your team. It’s another thing to compete against a different offense. You just start to feel more confident and more comfortable in what you’re doing”.
Arguably the biggest issue the team has had so far this season has been in zone coverage, which relies so much upon communication, and that was most evident in the first half of their last game against the Houston Texans. The fact that they kind of lost out on their bye week won’t help matters.
But this is a secondary, really an entire defense from top to bottom, that has played together. They all know each other, and while they may to some degree be still learning about one another and how they play, it’s not as though they are new to the team or the system, at least outside of backup edge defender Alex Highsmith.
Through three games, the Steelers defense has managed to put up 15 sacks and five takeaways, including four interceptions. They are not getting the ball out of ball-carriers hands so far at the same rate that they have a year ago, especially in terms of strip sacks, but that should develop in time if they maintain the same consistent pass rush.
It’s all about putting all of the elements together, though, and that’s about communication. The Steelers aren’t putting up quite the same pass defense numbers they did a year ago. But then again, they’re not under the same pressure of playing with an anemic offense.