Three preseason games are now in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the defense continues to hold firm, both on the field and in the tackling department.
In the Steelers’ 26-20 win over the Detroit Lions Aug. 21 at Heinz Field, the Steelers played many of their starters in the regular-season tuneup. Defensively, though the Steelers recorded a preseason-high 11 missed tackles, the starter looked solid overall, showcasing strong depth and playmaking abilities on the defensive side of the football.
Let’s dive into this missed tackles report.
Total missed tackles vs. Lions — 11
- Miles Killebrew — 3 (one on sack attempt)
- Robert Spillane — 2 (one on sack attempt)
- Marcus Allen — 1 (special teams)
- Alex Highsmith — 1
- Henry Mondeaux — 1
- Justin Layne — 1
- Lamont Wade — 1
- James Pierre — 1
Total missed tackles (through three preseason games) — 23 (7.6 misses per game)
- Miles Killebrew — 4 (one special teams, one on sack attempt)(12 total tackles on 16 total attempts, 25% miss rate)
- Ulysees Gilbert III — 2 (five total tackles on seven total attempts, 28.5% miss rate)
- Isaiah Buggs — 2 (three total tackles on five total attempts, 40% miss rate)
- Robert Spillane — 2 (one on sack attempt) (12 total tackles on 14 total attempts, 14.3% miss rate)
- Marcus Allen — 2 (10 total tackles on 12 total attempts, 16.6% miss rate)
- Justin Layne — 2 (one on special teams)(nine total tackles on 11 attempts, 18.1% miss rate)
- James Pierre — 2 (one special teams)(seven total tackles on nine total attempts, 22.2% miss rate)
- Tre Norwood — 1 (two total tackles on three total attempts, 33.3 miss rate)
- Donovan Stiner — 1 (two total tackles on three total attempts, 33.3% miss rate)
- Derek Watt — 1 (special teams)(zero total tackles on one total attempt, 100% miss rate)
- Carlos Davis — 1 (special teams)(one total tackle on two total attempts, 50% miss rate)
- Alex Highsmith — 1 (two tackles on three total attempts, 33.3% miss rate)
- Lamont Wade — 1 (four tackles on five total attempts, 20% miss rate)
- Henry Mondeaux — 1 (two tackles on three total attempts, 33.3% miss rate)
Right away, its concerning seeing veteran safety and special teams ace Miles Killebrew leading the way with three missed tackles against his former team on Saturday night.
Though Killebrew is around the football a ton this preseason, he has to be better at making tackles, especially in space. Against the Lions Saturday, Killebrew missed a tackle on three straight plays, turning a strong showing into a shaky one. While he’s still a lock for the roster and will be counted on heavily on special teams, I need to see a bounce back performance from the veteran, especially if he’s going to come free on a blitz like this against a quarterback.
That’s the type of shot at a quarterback that defenders dream of, and Killebrew flat-out whiffed in space. He’s probably still kicking himself after that one. The Steelers drew up the blitz and executed it perfectly with backups in the game, freeing Killebrew up for a 10-yard unimpeded sprint at David Blough in the pocket.
Killebrew took a poor angle and didn’t take away Blough’s escape lane, allowing him to sidestep the rush and fire incomplete, avoiding the sack on first down.
Aside from Killebrew, the Steelers’ second-string defense had a tough time trying to corral Blough in the second half overall.
The young quarterback did a great job avoiding pressure throughout the night, extending plays and moving the chains with his own two legs.
Here late in the third quarter, Blough does a great job extending this second and 11 play, causing Robert Spillane, Henry Mondeaux, and James Pierre to miss on arguably the ugliest rep of the night for the Steelers’ defense.
I genuinely don’t know how Spillane could have missed this tackle in space. It’s downright dreadful from the fourth-year linebacker. As for Mondeaux, I appreciate the effort in trying to make the tackle, but that’s not good enough.
As for Pierre, that’s a miss you can’t allow in space, especially to a quarterback not known for his scrambling abilities. I’m sure this was a play run over and over again in the film breakdown earlier this week.
Finally, I want to look at Alex Highsmith’s miss against the Lions.
Highsmith was a dominant force al game long when he was on the field, so I feel like I’m nitpicking here. However, this is a play he has to be better on, especially against the run.
Highsmith works too far upfield, allowing a cutback lane for Dedrick Mills to develop. Highsmith needs to play this tighter down the line of scrimmage, keeping Mills funneled to the middle of the formation into traffic. Instead, Highsmith works too far upfield with depth, opening up the cutback lane, stressing the rest of the front seven as Mills cuts it back against the grain for the 7-yard gain.
Great job here by Devin Bush to work off his block and come back to make the stop.
Offensively, the Steelers did a great job forcing missed tackles throughout the game against the Lions, recording 14 forced misses at Heinz Field, winning the tackle battle with a mark of +3.
Starters like Najee Harris, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron showed just what they can do with the football in their hands.
Forced missed tackles vs. Lions — 14
- Anthony McFarland — 3
- Najee Harris — 3
- James Washington — 2
- Ray-Ray McCloud — 2 (special teams)
- JuJu Smith-Schuster — 2
- Eric Ebron — 1
- Kalen Ballage — 1
Total forced misses (through two preseason games) — 39 (13per game)
- Anthony McFarland — 7
- Najee Harris — 6
- Ray-Ray McCloud – 4 (two on special teams)
- Diontae Johnson — 3
- Mathew Sexton — 3
- Kalen Ballage – 3
- Jaylen Samuels — 2
- Tony Brooks-James — 2
- JuJu Smith-Schuster — 2
- James Washington — 2
- Eric Ebron — 1
- Joshua Dobbs – 1
- Trey Edmunds — 1
- Isaiah McKoy – 1
Najee Harris stole the show offensively with his 46-yard catch and run down the right sideline, showcasing just what a weapon he can be out of the backfield for the Steelers.
Harris took the 3-yard checkdown, forced two quick misses within the first five yards, and then snatched the ankles of second-year cornerback Jeffrey Okudah from 10 yards away as he rumbled down the right sideline, igniting the home crowd.
It’s been a long time since the Steelers have had this type of YAC weapon in the backfield, so 2021 should be a fun year overall offensively for the Steelers with Harris.
Aside from Harris, JuJu Smith-Schuster showed what he can continue to be out of the slot, especially on the money downs of third and fourth down.
Here on fourth and one, Smith-Schuster took the short toss from Mason Rudolph, forced a quick missed tackle and then rumbled down the near sideline to move the chains, extending the Steelers’ scoring drive late in the first half.