If you are not intimately familiar with names like Daniel Archibong and Ahkello Witherspoon and Delontae Scott, then, well, I don’t blame you. Two of them were on the practice squad prior to the last game (and are back there now). None of them have much experience playing in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.
But they and others were asked to step into those roles this past Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers due to numerous injuries that the team was dealing with at all three levels of the defense, missing, among others, T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden, and Isaiahh Loudermilk.
And to be clear, it’s not just about the talent level of the new faces who were in the mix. While they are in practice and everything, having that amount of change in personnel is going to be jarring, and will lead to issues, as we saw. Still, the team appreciates their efforts, but is ready to get back to a healthier presentation.
“The defense, we had a lot of guys that don’t normally play play, and they went out there and fought hard, too”, Fitzpatrick said, returning from the Reserve/COVID-19 List after missing the first game of his career. “They went out there and finished the game. No matter who was out there, they all played hard, played well”.
Now, I don’t think many people are going to buy that everybody who filled in niche roles, or who even started as injury replacements, actually played well, even accepting the premise that they played hard, which is to say with great effort.
But that’s what you have to say as a teammate. And Fitzpatrick knows you don’t give up 41 points without playing below standard. “There’s things that we could’ve done better, obviously, but we’re back healthy this week”, he said, “so we’ll be back to our normal standard”.
Even that won’t be taken as the assuring affirmation that he intends, since there have certainly been times that the defense, when healthy, has not played up to what ‘the standard’ ought to be, particularly against the run.
But it’s certainly a welcome sight to see guys like Fitzpatrick and Watt off the injury report. We still don’t know whether or not Haden is going to be back, dealing with a foot injury, but we shouldn’t anticipate seeing the Scotts and Archibongs and Witherspoons out there logging lots of snaps.