One of the areas of the game in which the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has struggled so far this year has been in controlling the game when faced with adverse circumstances—either given a short field to defend or a sudden-change situation in the event of a turnover.
Yet it didn’t start out that way. They performed well in that area in the opener. The Buffalo Bills had a long return on the opening play of the game, and they forced a field goal without allowing a first down. When a shanked punt started the Bills on Pittsburgh’s 35, they forced a fumble and got the ball back. They also held the Las Vegas Raiders to a field goal after an interception in week two that put the ball on the Steelers’ 39.
Since then? Not great, Bob. The Cincinnati Bengals started across midfield three times. They scored a touchdown twice, and the third time ended the game after a turnover on downs with under two minutes to play. Both of those scores came off of interceptions.
“If they do get into the red zone, if we do get the ball in our sudden change, [we have to make] sure that they have to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns”, cornerback Joe Haden said on Monday following the team’s third straight loss. “Making sure we keep them out of the end zone. We’re built for it. That’s the mean thing we have to do, making sure we keep teams out of the end zone, and create turnovers and sacks and splash plays”.
They didn’t do that the day before against the Green Bay Packers. Like against Cincinnati, the Packers started two drives in Steelers territory, and they got the ball into the end zone both times for touchdowns.
The first came after a Rashan Gary sack of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who walked right guard Trai Tuner back in the pocket. Gary was able to hit Roethlisberger’s arm and dislodge the ball, with the Packers recovering at Pittsburgh’s 23. Four plays later, even with a holding penalty on Green Bay, they were into the end zone.
The Packers started a second drive behind enemy lines, at the Steelers’ 40, following a shanked punt in the third quarter. That time it took just four plays to traverse the 40 yards, culminating in Green Bay’s fifth consecutive possession to end in points, including three touchdowns.
They are 0-for-4 on short fields over the course of the past two weeks in holding teams to no worse than field goals, which is eight points in each game. That wouldn’t have been enough for the margin of victory in either contest, so there is still more work to do—like the offense scoring more points—but it’s always a priority for any defense to keep the opposing team out of the end zone, regardless of where they start with the ball, or how they got it in the first place.