It’s actually somewhat amazing that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense still managed to put up 37 points on the Cleveland Browns last week in spite of the fact that they turned the ball over an extraordinary five times, without really getting much help from their defense.
In all, the Steelers possessed the ball for 14 drives. They started within their own 26-yard line on 10 of those drives, and on only one possession did they start their drive better than the 37-yard line. Following a punt early in the second quarter, they took over from their own 46—on a drive that, of course, ended in an interception.
On the other hand, the defense allowed the Browns to drive 46 yards or more, or score a touchdown, on six possessions, ultimately scoring in some form or fashion on seven of their 12 meaningful possessions, punting five times.
Had the defense been able to hold, it’s possible that the offense could have salvaged the game. And that is the mindset that defenders like All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick are taking. In his final traditional media interview of the year, he talked about why he felt the defense contributed to the Steelers’ losses late in the season.
“I think we lacked execution overall. We lacked execution in the pass game, in the run game”, he said. “We kind of got away from what we’re used to doing, and that’s pretty much being simple and executing the game plan. Honestly, that’s it, for real. I think it’s very simple the reasons why we lost football games. It wasn’t like we were getting outplayed or outsmarted or outhustled. It was just lack of execution on our part as players”.
I’m not sure there will be many who agree with his assessment that they were not outplayed or outsmarted or outhustled, though I will note that he did not mention outphysicaled, which is something that he earlier in the season said was also not the case. Given that, I am going to assume that he continues to believe that a lack of physicality was not an issue.
Truth be told, simply executing at a high level can cover up for an awful lot of deficiencies in an awful lot of areas, and there’s no doubt that the Steelers, on both sides of the ball, could have executed a lot better over the final two months of the season.
But it would be a mistake to assume that’s the only concern. That’s not Fitzpatrick’s prerogative as a player, as he doesn’t have control over the outside elements, but it is something that the coaching staff and front office has to take into account.