The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly cost themselves the game on Sunday largely due to one reason: an inability to stop the opposing offense on third down. The Philadelphia Eagles finished the game going 10 for 14 on third down, and that included 10 consecutive conversions, after going three and out on their first two drives, before the defense got two stops late in the game.
During that span, the Eagles put up 29 points on the Steelers’ defense, which is the most that they have allowed in a game since the season opener in 2019 against the New England Patriots, and that was because they were able to repeatedly sustain drives. Two of their scores, including a 74-yard touchdown run, came on third down as well.
Since the game, everyone has been trying to figure out what went wrong and why and how to fix it. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked for his thoughts on the matter while speaking to the media earlier today.
“We have to do a better job of coaching, obviously. We can’t be giving up third and 10 or more”, he said, via a transcript. “That kills you. Occasionally, you should have that every now and then with your third and 4, 5, or 6. Sometimes the offense is going to win on that but not like they’ve been doing”.
“We gave up way too many in terms of percentages, getting the ball and getting to the quarterback a little bit”, he continued. “We didn’t. We blitzed a little bit but not a lot. Our guys sometimes if we do a little better of a job of coaching in terms of a disguise and stuff like that, I think it would help our guys out a little bit”.
The Steelers did take a bit of a different approach against Carson Wentz, blitzing less frequently on third down and in fact dropping seven players into coverage. This was especially the case later in the game, and they did this effectively against Deshaun Watson in the second half of their third game.
“It’s just not one person, one group or anything like that. It’s everybody”, Butler said in summarizing the failings of the third-down defense. “Rushing and coverage go together. Normally, when we are successful in terms of stopping people throwing the football, we get a pretty good rush going too. A lot of things go into that. Not just one or two things. We have to make sure we do a little bit better disguising also”.
Entering the game, the Steelers were allowing third-down conversions at a rate of about 42 percent, which at that point in the season ranked them squarely in the middle of the pack, but which would already have been a number upon which they would want to improve. After the Eagles game, it’s now 50 percent, among the worst in the league.