When you give up over 40 points on defense, even factoring in a number of drives that begin in your own territory because of offensive turnovers, it’s fair to assume that there were a number of issues involved in contributing to such an awful performance.
That would be an accurate assessment of the play of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in their Wildcard Round loss to the Cleveland Browns, which made for a fitting end to a season that began so promisingly before quickly devolving into frustration.
Needless to say, the players themselves also feel the frustration of the loss. After all, this is a team that hasn’t won a postseason game in five years now, going back to 2016. They didn’t even qualify in 2018 and 2019. This is the longest drought they’ve ever had in the playoff era.
Minkah Fitzpatrick hasn’t been here very long—literally 31 games including the postseason—but he shares in that frustration. He also still believes in his defense, and believes, more or less, that they were responsible for beating themselves.
“It was almost 100 percent mental”, he told reporters on Thursday about why the defense struggled. “I don’t think there’s too many times where we just lost one-on-one coverage. Maybe on like one third down, or we lost one-on-one in the gap”.
“I think it was more just, whether it be leaving somebody wide open, which we don’t normally do—or the times that we do, we lose games”, he added. “Or whether it be not getting in your gap or not fitting the run right. I don’t think any of it was just being out-physicaled. I think maybe we could’ve done a better job tackling, but running backs 10 yards down the field, it’s kind of hard to tackle them. Besides that, I think it was just overall execution”.
Basically, his contention is that if they simply played their plays the way they were supposed to be played, they would have won. They have the scheme and the talent to execute and win, but they didn’t because they dropped the execution part of the equation.
Now, I’m not sure I buy that exactly. There were certainly times where the Browns were the more physical team, particularly in the ground game. Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb both gave them issues bringing them to the ground.
That’s frankly not likely to be addressed. Perhaps the return of Devin Bush and having a more experienced and healthy Alex Highsmith in 2021 will make a difference—barring an unlikely return of Bud Dupree—but other than that, there’s not much they can do, or would do.