Whenever there is a persistent issue in a game over a set period of time, it’s generally safe to assume that thee were multiple factors contributing to the negative result. That is certainly the case for the manner in which the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run defense suddenly turned into papier-mâché clones in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The Patriots’ running backs picked up 49 of their 118 yards during the game on that final drive to run out the final six and a half minutes of the game. They had six successful runs on eight carries between Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris, including five out of their final six carries before they got to kneeldown time.
There have been some observations that much of the credit falls to quarterback Mac Jones, who was successful at changing the play at the line of scrimmage to put the offense in advantageous positions based on what the defense was showing. So how do you play off of that? Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told reporters yesterday that his unit has to be able to respond, to counter the counters, and it’s up to him to give them the information they need from Monday to Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re going to do like they do in college, where they call something and everybody’s looking at the sideline”, he said of how defenses react to offensive adjustments, via transcript. “We want to teach our guys football and how to react to football and learn football”.
“What we want to do is, when they get the check, they’ve got to understand, ‘Hey, if we’re lined up like this, where’s the check? Where may they want to go with the football?’ and play appropriately”, he added. “I just think I’ve got to do a better job and continue to give them information and let them take it and digest it. They’ll get it. I think we’ll be better as we move forward with all this”.
If I were to offer some defense for his unit, it must be noted that they were in their first game without T.J. Watt, and they lack quality depth behind him versed in their defense. His injury caused them to adapt to a 3-3-5 front, which has been rarely used in Pittsburgh prior to this season, a package that often included rookie defensive end DeMarvin Leal standing up, so there are a lot of things that could go wrong with those ingredients.
That’s not to say that it was inevitable they would give up the necessary yardage or that it wasn’t reasonable for them to expect better. It’s just acknowledging that the circumstances were not ideal, but they will now have to figure out how to make those adjustments.
Of course, there were mechanical issues as well as schematic. Guys not getting off blocks or making tackles was just as key an ingredient in the less-than-ideal results. That needs to be cleaned up as well, and in a hurry, considering who’s coming up next.