The Pittsburgh Steelers saw a full 20 players log at least one snap on defense for them on Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers. Among those logging zero snaps—due to unavailability—were T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Joe Haden, Carlos Davis, and Isaiahh Loudermilk.
Instead, we got reps from Delontae Scott, Daniel Archibong, Miles Killebrew, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Karl Joseph. Henry Mondeaux played 27 snaps. Derrek Tuszka played 32, Taco Charlton 49. Tre Norwood played every single snap.
Needless to say, that has never been the plan going into a game. They didn’t have much choice, under the circumstances. And it was unfortunately very apparent that this created issues for the unit that went beyond mere talent.
Asked after the game if the Chargers were able to take advantage of their inexperienced players, Cameron Heyward said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to take a look back. We gave up some stuff. Communication struggled in some instances. Didn’t get all the way through with our checks, and man, it made us pay in the end. I’ll say that”.
Communication will be a theme, or rather failures in communication. Cameron Sutton, their most veteran member of the secondary with Joe Haden out, also brought it up, and it was a factor in the big 53-yard game-winning touchdown they gave up.
“Obviously, we had a call on. I’m not gonna get into the specifics of the call”, he said. “We just didn’t execute the call. At that critical point in the game, we’ve got to be all on the same page and can’t have any miscommunications. We just didn’t get it done”.
The defense ended up allowing 41 points during the game, and that was without the Chargers benefitting from any short fields. Literally, before the final turnover on downs with 1:15 to play, Los Angeles’ best starting field position was its own 30. The Chargers only started further than their own 25 twice on meaningful drives.
When you have three or four players on the field at the same time who have hardly played for you at all, and you’re asking them to carry out some assignment, you had better be sure that you’re going to get home. That often wasn’t the case.
“The issue was that we have some young inexperienced guys in the secondary, and so if you rush at them with more than four, you’re exposing them”, head coach Mike Tomlin said, in referring to their hesitance to blitz.
Yet the blitzing itself is a problem when you have players who don’t know what gap they’re supposed to hit or what angle to take in order to preserve lane integrity. They had better hope that getting some of these players back will take care of the majority of these issues.