For as much talent as the Pittsburgh Steelers have running up and down their defense, there are certainly times when it doesn’t show up. No matter what the reason—overwork from the lack of a balanced offense that can stay on the field is certainly a contributing factor—there have been too many instances early on this year in which the defense has not looked ready to play.
And arguably the Steelers’ best player on the field right now, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, is certainly seeing that. He expressed his disappointment with his group following two losses this week, first to the New England Patriots on Sunday, and then to the Cleveland Browns last night.
“We played a sloppy game. An incomplete game”, he told reporters from the locker room following the loss, according to team transcripts. “They did what they wanted to. Run the ball, do trick plays, and stuff like that. They did what they wanted to do and we could not stop it”.
That’s certainly not beating around the bush, but it’s also not really wrong, or at least it appeared that way for long stretches of Thursdays’ contest, especially late. The Browns put up over 170 rushing yards against this group, much of it coming in the second half, with Nick Chubb taking over the game. He gained more yards after contact than he had total rushing yards.
Equally concerning is the fact that they allowed Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett to pass for 220 yards on 31 pass attempts, completing 21 of them for two touchdowns, one to Amari Cooper and one to David Njoku—in both instances, with safety Terrell Edmunds in coverage.
Cooper put up over 100 receiving yards by himself, and it would have been worse—possibly with another score—if he didn’t have a big drop on what would have been a fourth-down conversion late in the game.
In terms of sloppiness, that extended not only to their tackling efforts but also in their coverage, with too many defensive backs getting spun around and targets running free. Most concerning was the considerable amount of yards after the catch the Browns were able to accumulate, which is traditionally a category the Steelers pride themselves on minimizing.
That was not this unit last night. They allowed the Browns offense to put up 23 points knowing that they are in a position with the state of the offense that they have to shoulder the load, giving up 376 yards of offense, and allowing them to convert on fourth down three out of four times—the fourth only failing because of a drop.
There wasn’t much to be happy about. The pressure was a little bit better than on Sunday, but still not where it needed to be. There were some good drives, but not nearly enough. On the field for 36 minutes, this is a group that is in need of a rest and a regroup. Fortunately they’ll have one.