Blocking and tackling. That’s fundamental football. Pittsburgh certainly didn’t do enough of the latter in Sunday’s tie against the Detroit Lions. Thursday, Cam Heyward explained how to clean it up, speaking with reporters before practice.
“Not dropping our heads, running through tackles, taking better angles, run to the ball,” he told reporters via team-provided audio. “If there’s missed tackles, it’s going to happen, but to have 10 or 11 guys to the ball helps nullify that.”
According to our Josh Carney’s missed tackles report, Pittsburgh missed 18 tackles against Detroit, all coming on defense. Four players missed more than one: Minkah Fitzpatrick (with a whopping four misses), Miles Killebrew, Devin Bush, and Alex Highsmith.
Overall, individual missed tackle rates are up this season. Here’s a comparison of 2020 vs 2021, the former shown first followed by the latter.
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 12.9% vs 16.8%
Joe Haden: 14% vs 27.7%
Cam Sutton: 25% vs 28.5%
Devin Bush: 8% vs 12.7%
Alex Highsmith: 4.9% vs 13.3%
In fact, from T.J. Watt to Fitzpatrick, every Steelers starter’s missed tackle rate has gone up from a year ago, a troubling sign when you consider this defense had the benefit of a full offseason, training camp, and preseason to work on these things.
There are technical issues that go beyond poor tackling, but Heyward knows it starts with being a buttoned-up, fundamental group.
“I think you can say it’s an X’s and O’s thing, but when we don’t execute and we don’t play the way we’re supposed to and use our hands and get off blocks, then that’s a recipe for a rough game.”
The defense has had too many rough games in that department this season. 22 missed tackles against the Seahawks, 18 against the Lions, and double-digit showings versus the Packers and Bengals. To put it another way, Pittsburgh missed 133 tackles all of last year, an average of 8.31 per game. This year, they’re on pace to finish with 185, 10.88 per game, a crooked number that isn’t winning football.
To minimize a Chargers’ offense that looks potent on paper, Pittsburgh must do a better job. Or they’ll be flying home from the west coast with as loss.