The Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-down defense was awful last week. Horrendous. Bookmarked by good play on the first two and last two drives, in between, they surrendered 10 consecutive third-down conversions to the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the worst teams in the league, and allowed them to score 29 points on them.
If there is any solace to be taken in that, the Baltimore Ravens also just let the Eagles put 28 points on them, and it came down to a stop on a two-point conversion try at the end of the game to not only preserve the 30-point threshold but to secure the victory.
What feels even better, however, is the much better performance on third down that the Steelers defense had yesterday against the Cleveland Browns, who had been averaging more than 30 points per game on the season but managed just seven on the day.
“Part of being good in this league is identifying problems and eliminating them, hopefully before they happen, but once they happen, you’ve got to eliminate them quickly”, head coach Mike Tomlin said in his opening remarks after the game.
“We acknowledged that third down was an issue for us last week, defensively. I thought they answered that challenge well and emphatically today. It was necessary to slow down a dangerous Browns attack, one that had been ringing up a bunch of points per game”.
Cleveland converted on third down just once in the entire game offensively, out of 12 tries, a performance so good that it makes their two-week third-down performance of allowing 11 conversions on 26 attempts suddenly look much better. The Browns did get a second conversion via an encroachment call on T.J. Watt on third and four.
“We had a better plan”, Tomlin would only offer when explaining why they had so much more success on third down defensively. “It starts with us as coaches, and then the guys performed better, and they finished it off. But we both were JV last week, players and coaches. We got better this week”.
The Steelers’ next opponent is a middling performer on third down this year, that being the Tennessee Titans, though they have done enough to be 5-0 now. They have converted 29 times on 60 third-down tries this season, just under 50 percent, after going 6-for-10 yesterday.
But the Titans are also allowing a nearly 60-percent conversion rate on third down, among the worst ranks in the entire league, and the Steelers can be excellent on third down when given the opportunity, although they rank around 10th or so league-wide.