Complementary football is the cornerstone of any successful enterprise on the gridiron. Having a great offense or a great defense usually isn’t enough if the other side isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, and we’ve seen talented teams torpedoed by bad special teams play as well.
Right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not a good football team, and the fact that they are not playing complementary football is symptomatic of that. Both the offense and the defense share blame, but the biggest topic of conversation is usually the offense and their inability to stay on the field. It’s a concern for center Mason Cole, something he has brough up already this season, and did so again yesterday.
“We’ve just got to help our defense out”, he said, via video from the team’s YouTube channel. “Three and outs, and the consecutive three and outs for us, are not good, and it kills our defense. I think they had a 10-play drive, and we went out and got three and now the defense got right back out on the field, and that’s brutal”.
He’s referring to the Steelers’ last outing, of course. After the offense opened the second half with a five-minute drive, the defense gave up a 14-play, seven-minute drive. The offense had to sit for a while, but then did the defense no favors. They went three and out on their next three drives, totaling about three and a half minutes combined.
The Browns, in contrast, responded with a six-and-a-half-minute touchdown drive. In fact, I’ve mentioned this a couple of times already, but there was a stretch during which the Browns gained at least 57 yards on five consecutive drives, with most of those drives spanning six or seven minutes. The offense did respond to the first two with touchdowns, which was the closest the Steelers came to complementary football all night, but it fell apart after that, and once again, the defense fell lopsidedly on the losing end of the time of possession battle.
“We can’t do that to our defense”, Cole said. “A lot of people will say our defense needs to play the run better, but we need to help our defense out. It’s important for us to possess the ball and have those possession downs be won”.
To put it more simply, the defense ranks 27th in the NFL in time of possession allowed, but the offense ranks 30th in their own time of possession. The drives the defense must defend are nearly 50 percent longer than the drives the offense is managing.
And time on the bench is much more advantageous to the defense than it is to the offense. Offenses don’t want to sit too long, but it’s much worse for defenses to be unable to rest than it is for offenses to get too much rest. The offense really needs to do more for the defense—but both need to do better, and play more complementary.