If this year has proven anything, it’s that a defense needs to be a complete unit, not a couple of stars carrying the workload. That might work offensively, a great quarterback and receiver or elite running back behind a pretty good offensive line. But on defense? Have a weakness and offenses will exploit it all day. Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, and to a slightly lesser degree, Minkah Fitzpatrick have all played like stars, yet the Steelers’ defense has been poor this season and historically bad against the run. Over the final four weeks, Heyward’s mentality is for each man to do his job, even for potential returning faces like DL Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, and LB Robert Spillane.
“I think they can help out,” Heyward told the media Thursday morning via Steelers.com. “I can’t put the onus on just one guy changing the outcome of a game. A s a defense, everybody’s gotta play better and everybody’s gotta as Coach LeBeau used to always say ‘do your 1/11th.’ I think they can be 1/11th or 3/11ths, but everybody’s just gotta do their job.”
Davis has been out of the lineup since Week 1 due to a knee injury. He spent part of the season on IR, and though he’s been activated off it for two weeks, he’s yet to dress. Mike Tomlin seemed to imply Davis wasn’t fully healthy until now, and odds seem good Davis will get a helmet Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. It’s key timing with starting NT Montravius Adams placed on the Reserve/COVID yesterday.
Buggs has been inactive for two weeks with an ankle injury. Adams’ illness may re-open the door for Buggs, who struggled with mental mistakes and seemingly got benched before suffering his injury.
Spillane missed time with a knee sprain, but could return this weekend. He had one of his best performances and plays last year against the Tennessee Titans, sticking Derrick Henry at the goal line. If available, Spillane could rotate in with Joe Schobert and Devin Bush to help out a run game that ranks dead last in football.
Regardless of who is or isn’t available, Heyward says the mentality must be the same.
“Defense comes in, everybody trusting each other and everybody knowing that everybody’s gonna be in their position.”
Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened often this season. All throughout the year, Heyward has pointed out the need to be assignment-sound, to get off blocks, and to tackle. But this defense has struggled time and time again, especially against the run. They’ll face the league’s most committed rushing attack in the Titans this weekend.