Injuries have not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, particularly on defense. They have missed two of their starting defensive linemen for all or nearly all of the season. Joe Haden has now missed five games. T.J. Watt has missed two starts and large chunks of a few others. Alex Highsmith has missed time, both in terms of starts and time within games.
None of that matters at the end of the day when you’re talking about winning and losing and simply performing, from the player perspective. “It’s not an excuse”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward said when the injuries and replacement parts were brought up. “Every man that signs up in that locker room to play football has a job to do, including myself. If we can’t get the job done, then we shouldn’t be here”.
Among the performers playing key roles for the defense this week were Ahkello Witherspoon, Taco Charlton, Derrek Tuszka, and Montravius Adams, none of whom were with the team in training camp. Some did better than others. The same could be said for the starters, certainly.
Whenever the team has a particularly bad loss, one of the first things members of the media want to ask after the game is whether or not they will have a players-only meeting, and what their message would be. As you surely guessed, Heyward fielded that question.
“Play freaking better”, was his answer as to what his message would be if such a meeting were to be held, which he seemingly implied there wouldn’t be, at least for now. “You can sit up here and have a players’ meeting, but if the guy can’t get the job done, he shouldn’t be out there”.
The message is clear: If you’re on the field, you have to do you’re job. If you don’t, they’ll find somebody else to do your job. That’s why we saw guys like Marcus Allen and rookie linebacker Buddy Johnson working their way onto the field. The only defensive player who dressed but did not play on defense was Ulysees Gilbert III, I believe.
The defense did play significantly better in the second half, but the first-half issues remain. For yet another game, they were utterly gashed in the running game, this time by the Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, who coming into the week wasn’t even expected to play, but then rushed for over 200 yards.
Whatever they’re doing, it’s obviously not working, and there’s nothing saying that they actually have the answers on the roster. Getting Watt back quickly after exiting last night’s game with a groin injury will help, but you can run to the other side.