While we are busy talking about how awful the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is—and it is awful, make no mistake about that—we also have to talk about the fact that the team had not been getting what they need from the defense, either. Things that they were getting from the defense last year.
The 2019 defense, finally stocked with the talent that they needed to run the system that they want, understood that without Ben Roethlisberger under center, they had zero margin for error. They responded, after picking up Minkah Fitzpatrick, by becoming the best defense in the league, leading in sacks and takeaways.
While they are still among the league leaders in both categories, and, of late, they had also just recently ranked first in scoring defense, the reality is that they hadn’t been holding teams in recent weeks, and that includes Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, whom they’ve allowed to score three touchdowns in the first half alone, including two red-zone touchdowns and one explosive touchdown of 40-plus yards.
Part of playing complementary football includes one side of the ball picking up the slack for the other. When your offense is struggling to move the ball, let alone get into the end zone, you have to keep your opponent out of the end zone, and get the ball back with short fields.
A T.J. Watt strip sack and Mike Hilton scoop did set up the offense on the three-yard line, which they used to score their lone first-half points, a James Conner touchdown, but you can’t allow the Colts to get into the end zone three times.
Indianapolis got into the end zone twice in the first half on drives that spanned at least 70 yards, including one that went 85 yards. They did have a short field due to a special teams penalty on the play on which they scored on an explosive play, a two-play, 43-yard drive.
This is the second time in as many weeks that the Steelers entered halftime with not just a double-digit deficit, but a deficit of at least two touchdowns, trailing 21-7 after trailing 17-0 last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, a game that, of course, they lost.
The defense finally did hold Indianapolis to a field goal on their opening drive of the second half—but the only problem is, they still looked awful and allowed the Colts to drive down the field at a time in which there is no wiggle room, moving 65 yards down to the 10-yard line and giving them a 17-point lead.
The solution? They did buckle down after that drive. The Colts when three and out on their next two drives and only picked up one first down on the next, which was enough for the offense to actually heat up and take the lead. Mike Hilton, who recovered a fumble earlier in the game, picked off Philip Rivers on the next drive.
After the first drive of the second half, the Colts mustered a total of five first downs on their final five drives, three of which came on the final drive that resulted in a turnover on downs at the Steelers’ 33. The drive before that ended in their second takeaway of the game, a Hilton interception.
This is the way the defense has to play heading into the postseason. This is the way the offense has to play heading into the postseason—barring cleaning up a few blemishes here and there. The second half, outscoring the Colts 21-3: that’s what they need more of.