Even while the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been held to 17 points or under in three consecutive games, with the team dropping their last two, defensive captain Cameron Heyward is not interested in hearing any kinds of excuses about how the defense is off the hook, or even less to blame, for the team’s recent struggles.
Their most recent loss came against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night, and the defense did get off to a good start, holding them to three points, a field goal in the second quarter—before Buffalo’s defense added a pick six, that is. But they were handled in the second half.
“We can sit here and talk about our defense in the first quarter, but after that, it all went to Hell”, Heyward told reporters after the game, via video of the interview provided by the team’s media department. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing. Whoever’s in there has got to be responsible, and it’s up to the older guys to step up as well, including myself”.
“We can sit up here and say it’s a new guy or it’s a new position, but as an older guy, we need to alleviate the pressure, whether it’s communicating better or getting more pressure”, he added. “Everybody’s got to be on their Ps and Qs. As a defense, we’ve got to be as a whole. You don’t just put it all on one guy”.
The defense is dealing with a number of issues at once. One week after missing Steven Nelson at one starting cornerback spot, they were without Joe Haden at the other against the Bills. The inside linebacker position was ravaged, with replacement starter Robert Spillane sidelined with a knee injury and Vince Williams on the Reserve/Covid-19 List.
As a result, they had to get a full game’s work out of Avery Williamson, who has only been on the team for a handful of weeks, while the rest of the reps were split by Marcus Allen, a converted safety, and Ulysees Gilbert III, a second-year former sixth-round pick who had just returned to practice after spending most of the past two months on the Reserve/Injured List.
On top of that, they are still adjusting to life without edge rusher Bud Dupree, who remains tied for second on the team with eight sacks even after being gone for a couple of games already. Rookie Alex Highsmith has been his primary replacement, but they have also tried to rotate in others.
For Heyward, none of this shuffling or inexperience amounts to anything approximating an excuse. No matter who is one the field, no matter in what role, they simply have to execute their assignments. If they don’t do that, maybe they won’t be out there the next time around.