The Pittsburgh Steelers have had quite a few problems on defense so far this season but most of them seem to be relegated to one down. Specially, third down and it hasn’t been pretty. In fat, against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Steelers defense allowed 10 of 14 third downs to be converted against them. That came after the Eagles offense failed to convert their first two third down opportunities of the game. During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin once again acknowledged the problem the team’s defense had on third downs on Sunday against the Eagles
“Like I talked about after the game, we just didn’t do a good job of controlling them circumstances,” Tomlin said on Tuesday. “And to really be quite honest with you, some of the circumstances were advantageous to us, meaning third and long.”
The first third down the Eagles converted in Sunday’s game was a 3rd and 9 from their own 26-yard-line with time winding down in the first quarter. It was a simple draw play to running back Miles Sanders against a Steelers blitz that culminated in a 74-yard touchdown run. You can see that play broken down below by Fran Duffy, who covers the Eagles for their official website. Additionally, Tomlin talked about that third down conversion seemingly being a catalyst for the Eagles offense in that game.
“The big play pop by Miles, man, you’ve got to first give kudos to him,” Tomlin said. “But I mean, they ran the draw on the third and 10 into the teeth of a blitz and we had unblocked people at the point of attack. We’ve just got to kind of make those plays. And sometimes the process of learning is not an alteration of what it is that we do in preparation, or even in a level of attention to a detail in terms of our play, just an acknowledgement that in those weighty moments, you’ve got to make those tackles. You go to make the catch. You’ve got to make the significant block.
“And sometimes through the course of this journey, there are some negative experiences along those lines and they just provide reinforcement to certain things that we already know. There might not be any adjustment moving forward other than the acknowledgement of how miserable it is. That play changed the trajectory of the day for them and for us, particularly as it pertained to those possession downs and it made it tough sledding along the way.”
In so many word, Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton needs to make that tackle on Sanders on that draw. Not only that, safety Terrell Edmunds and cornerback Steven Nelson needed to find a way to get off the players
holding blocking them and get Sanders down before he scored. There’s no way a running back should go 74 yards virtually untouched.
Sanders want the only Eagles to make a play for the Eagles on third down against the Steelers. Wide receiver Travis Fulgham, No. 13, converted five of the other nine via catches. Tomlin made sure to highlight and praise the third down play of Fulgham on Sunday when pressed more about the issues the Steelers had on third downs against the Eagles.
“Some of the issues aren’t issues,” Tomlin said. “Some of the issues are just 13 [Fulgham] was making some combat catches and you got to acknowledge that. A couple of those conversions, man, were thrown into tight coverages and they were great throws. That one down the field, we were in two-deep-man-under and Mike Hilton was in close proximity to 13. He made a combat catch down the middle of the field running blind. You got to respect that. He made a circus jump catch in front of our bench when Steve Nelson was draped all over him and challenging the throw from the cache from start to finish.
“So, it’s not always something that you have to fix. And that’s what I mean when I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s just an acknowledgement that they work, that they have a plan, that they’ve got quality players that are capable of making plays. And sometimes they’re going to make a play and you got to roll your sleeves up and fight on. And it’s good to see our group gain that understanding. Everything that required a meeting or a dry erase board or an adjustment, sometimes it’s just get back out there and fight. And it was some of that. And if I didn’t acknowledge that I I’d be doing the Philadelphia Eagles a disservice.”
Below are two catches by Fulgham that Tomlin referenced, and both were fantastic plays by the young Eagles wide receiver.
In short, Tomlin is saying that players are paid on the other team to make plays and when you do, you need to tip your cap to them and move on to the next play. Tomlin was asked late during his press conference on Tuesday if there was anything for him to be alarmed about on third downs against the Eagles or if he just chalks it all up what happened on Sunday on that down as just the defense having a bad day. He wouldn’t take the bait, however.
“I’m not into chalking up anything,” Tomlin said. “I think if you’re a professional and you have a desire to be at your best, you’ll continually comb through things in an effort to get better for you the next time out. So, that’s what we’re doing. I’m just acknowledging that some of the plays don’t require an adjustment, either in personnel or technique or schematics. Sometimes you just got guys on the other side that are working hard and performing at a good level as well. And some of that happened on Sunday and you’ve got to tip your cap to Carson Wentz. You’ve got to tip your cap to 13. You’ve you just got to tip your cap to the Philadelphia Eagles, man. We’re all competitors in this thing.”
Tomlin’s Tuesday response to all the third down questions would be easier to swallow had the Steelers defense entered that game against the Eagles having had a lot of success on third downs in their first three games. That wasn’t the case, however, as the defense entered their Week 5 game having already allowed 18 of 42 (42.9%) of all third downs to be converted against them. They now sit at 28 of 56 (50%) entering Week 6 and that’s tied for 28th in the NFL.
The Steelers will play the Cleveland Browns at home in Week 6 and in doing so their defense will face an offense that’s registered a 45.2% third down conversion rate in their first five games. If the Steelers defense can’t get the job done on Sunday against the Browns on third downs, they’ll likely experience their first loss of the 2020 season.