I’m sure there is not a bigger question that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is facing right now, either from the outside or the inside, than what exactly is going on with their third-down defense. They had already been allowing teams to convert on third down at a 42-percent rate for the first three games before surrendering first downs on 10 of 14 tries on Sunday, including 10 in a row.
The Eagles converted twice on the ground with Miles Sanders, including a 3rd-and-9 conversion for a 74-yard touchdown that opened the floodgates. Carson Wentz finished 7-for-10 for 125 yards and one touchdown on third down, all of his completions getting first downs, and he also converted another via the sneak.
Joe Haden earlier today was asked about if the Steelers were emphasizing third-down defense heading into this week, following the struggles that they have had most recently. “That’s something we’ve been working on big time”, he told reporters.
“Coach showed us the tape of how we’ve been failing on third and 2-6 and around 7-10 also”, he continued. “We’ve been watching tape on that all week. Sometimes it’s not just one person, sometimes it’s they won a play. Sometimes it’s losing contain, or sometimes we get beat. It’s a couple of things, but it’s nothing dramatic. Everything that we saw on tape that we’re getting beat on those third downs was an easy fix, so we look to be making sure that we’re locked in on third down this week”.
The most frustrating aspect of the third-down defense against the Eagles is the fact that they were actually terrible on third and long. They put Philadelphia in 3rd and 8 or worse seven times and allowed five conversions. Three of those were completions to Travis Fulgham.
The first third down of the game was on 3rd and 10 and ended in a T.J. Watt sack. The next possession was another three and out, ending in an incomplete pass to Zach Ertz on 3rd and 5. The next 10 third-down attempts gained a new set of downs before Haden broke up a 3rd-and-5 pass to Fulgham with three minutes to go. A third-and-20 incompletion on the next drive to Ertz, and then a Steven Nelson interception on fourth down, effectively put the game to bed.
So the good news is that they did finish the game on a positive not. The question is whether they can pick up where they left off against the Cleveland Browns, who have been one of the better teams in avoiding third-and-long situations.