After a disappointing start to the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, it would be fair to say that their performances have shown noticeable signs of improvement as of late. While still far from perfect, the team is second in the league in sacks and have held their last two opponents to only 19 points, a far cry from their average over the first four weeks of 29 points a game.
The Cincinnati Bengals were held to just 62 yards rushing and 229 yards passing on Sunday and the Steelers have slowly begun to climb out of the ranks of the league’s worse defense statistically. Currently ranked 21 st overall giving up an average of 380.2 yards a game, the Steelers sit just behind the New England Patriots in that regard.
When speaking to reporters on Tuesday, cornerback Joe Haden noted the changes that new defensive backs coach Tom Bradley had brought to the secondary and the points of emphasis he had been working on with his players over the past six weeks or so to fix their issues.
Joe Haden and Stephon Tuitt are encouraged by what they have seen over the past two games. pic.twitter.com/watmKQsIXA— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 17, 2018
However, the most revealing part of his conversation with the media might have been his answer to a question about the involvement of Mike Tomlin in the defense and his input in addressing the problems that have plagued the secondary during the early part of the season.
“He’s very hands-on with us. I know him and coach Buts [Keith Butler], they talk all the time, and he does meetings with us with just the DB’s and some of the linebackers where he lets us know why we’re running where we’re running. So, he’s very very very influential and he’s very into whats going on in the secondary and letting us know what we’ve got.”
As a former defensive backs coach in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it should come as no surprise to note that is where Tomlin chooses to focus his efforts defensively. But while he deserves some praise for the improvement of the secondary recently, he also deserves more than his fair share of the blame for the level of play we have seen from this unit to start the season.
Given the criticism Keith Butler generally receives for the deficiencies of the defense on game day when things are not going well, it is perhaps only right to consider him partially in charge of the unit in partnership with Tomlin.
Faced with two of the league’s better offenses in their last two outings, the signs of life from the Steelers’ defense are encouraging and Haden clearly likes the direction the group is heading in.
“I think we started off pretty slow, but then in the past couple of games, we have been doing a whole lot better, keeping the ball in front of us and making our tackles.”
If Pittsburgh could just fix Artie Burns or find someone competent to play opposite Haden, this secondary might actually turn out to be quite good.