The Pittsburgh Steelers need to learn to take the football away more in 2019. Period. And to do that it comes down to some very fundamental aspects of the game of football. You have to know the defense well enough to be at the right place at the right time, but you also have to be able to physically make the play.
Since the Steelers hired defensive backs/assistant coach Teryl Austin, the defensive backs have been working on just that — catching the football. Austin requires all defensive backs to hit the JUGS machine at least once a day, no exceptions.
“That’s mandated by me,” Austin told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Every day we are going to be on the JUGS machine. We’re going to catch balls before or after practice. This is not a choice. You have a choice of time, but not a choice of whether you are going to do it.”
If you think about it, you can probably think of at least a half dozen plays in the past few seasons where passes were thrown and should have been interceptions, but were either knocked to the ground or flat out dropped.
Who could forget Sean Davis laying out Joe Haden against the Chargers last season only to have a near automatic interception turn into a touchdown? You could think of at least six Ike Taylor plays during his career where the ball hit him square in the hands, only to have it fall to the turf.
Austin isn’t about to have that be the new norm under his tutelage.
“We’re not there just to knock the ball down or bat it up in the air,” Austin said. “We want to try to catch it and turn it over because those are big in terms of helping our defense.”
How are things going so far? Pretty good, actually.
“Our guys are doing a good job of being in position to challenge,” Austin said. “The first thing you have to do is when they are doing things right, they usually are in position to get their hands on some balls and challenge. The next thing is we’ve got to finish every opportunity we can get.
“The last thing is make sure we clean up and not let any balls get over our head. If we can limit those big plays and still be aggressive at the ball and get our hands on the ball and turn it over, we’ve got a chance to really help our defense.”
This would be a huge boost for the Steelers defense, and could actually catapult them into the top echelon of NFL defenses. The unit can already get after the quarterback with the best of them, and throw in the fact they can take the football away in the back end and the Steelers defense could return to its once formidable self in 2019.