It’s very difficult in this day and age to field an elite defense in the sense of limiting offenses week in and week out to very low yardage totals. With the way that the game is played today, within the rules that govern it and the shift in talent at the college level, you’re simply not going to force 10 punts a game.
You need to take the ball away. And the Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to do that better than any other team in the past two seasons, even though they also remain one of the better defenses in terms of yardage totals allowed.
The problem is, they haven’t been getting the turnovers that they need in recent weeks, and their dry spell has coincided nicely with a three-game losing streak. They failed to record a single takeaway in two of those three games. In the other, they got two—but they also gave up two as well.
This is a defense that not only prides itself on the ability to take the ball away, but also plays with an understanding that it’s basically something that they have to do to set up their offense with good field position in order to put points on the board.
“I think things like that are understood. Like I said, we’ve been playing football for a long time. We understand that as a defense, you don’t want to spend a lot of time on the field, and you want to create those splash plays, those turnover-type plays”, edge rusher T.J. Watt told reporters on Thursday.
“I know personally, I want to make more, but it’s also important not to reach and try to become a Superman and get out of your gap and things like that”, he added. “So there’s definitely a fine line of trying to create splash and not trying to push too hard and expose your defense”.
One of the most striking things about the Steelers offense this season is the fact that they are just so frequently bad. They rank second in the NFL in three-and-out percentage at .277, just a hair behind the New York Jets’ .280, meaning that they run three plays and then punt without achieving a first down on more than a quarter of all of their drives.
That’s one of the reasons the Steelers need their defense to take the ball away. There are far too many times where the offense simply gets in its own way and fails to move the ball. They need to have some short fields to score. It was a winning formula for three months. They need to find it again, or their season is, frankly, doomed. That and some quality returns, which they haven’t had in a while.