Did you know the Steelers won the time of possession battle in their Week 4 matchup against the Jets at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday?
The offense actually possessed the football for 30:01 to New York’s 29:59.
All things considered, that’s good progress for a Steelers offense that had lost every time of possession battle over the first three weeks of the 2022 campaign.
According to some, however—the forever defenders of the Steelers' defense—the offense didn't possess the football nearly enough to prevent Cam Heyward and Co. from being exhausted by the time they took the field with a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Apparently, fatigue began to set in the moment the defense—one that had been pretty darn effective over the first three quarters—was tasked with delivering the knockout punch and securing Pittsburgh’s second win of the season.
This probably explains why the defense immediately yielded an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive right after quarterback Kenny Pickett scored on his second keeper of the game to build that aforementioned 10-point lead.
Forget about the fact that the defense had 10 days off following the Thursday night loss to the Browns. Forget about the fact that the offense, despite being ineffective from a points-scoring standpoint, actually possessed the football for nearly 15 minutes of the first half of Sunday’s game. Forget about the reality that the defense had an entire half to rest after playing an effective first two periods. Forget about the fact that the Steelers offense had possessed the football for over nine minutes of the second half while scoring 14 unanswered points and handing the defense a two-score lead with 13:36 remaining.
The defense was just plum tuckered out by that point.
I guess the amount of time and the number of plays it had to be on the field for over the first few weeks had finally caught up to the defense.
The Bengals possessed the football for 43:42 and 94 plays in Week 1. The Patriots possessed the football for 33:36 and 66 plays in Week 2. The Browns possessed the football for 36:09 and 71 plays in Week 3.
Evidently, the Steelers defense has no chance of ever recovering from the accumulative effects of being on the field so darn much in the month of September.
If only T.J. Watt were here to inspire the defense with his version of the pregame “We Ride!” ritual, maybe that would help.
Either that or maybe Watt just has to get healthy enough to be activated and inserted back into the lineup so he can make the Steelers’ defense effective again.
We don’t want to talk about that, of course, because Watt’s absence is just too easy. There isn’t anyone to blame when an injury to a star player makes an entire unit less effective. No, we must find a scapegoat for the ills of a defense that includes other talented players—Minkah Fitzpatrick, Larry Ogunjobi, Myles Jack, Alex Highsmith, Cam Sutton, Heyward, etc.—and why not point the finger at the offense?
That’s what the fans and the media did during the Bruce Arians days when Ben Roethlisberger and Co. scored often, sure, but did so too quickly to give the defense time to rest. The defense’s troubles had nothing to do with it being old, slow and over. It had nothing to do with opposing offenses becoming so familiar with Dick LeBeau’s legendary zone blitz scheme that it rendered it impotent by the early-2010s.
It was all about the time of possession. That must have been what prevented people like Ryan Mundy from being more effective.
Anyway, what can be done at this point to help the defense recover from the first three weeks of the season when it was on the field for so many snaps?
Is it like that whole thing where the Steelers' offense can never do anything to attack the middle of the field because opposing defenses figured out a way to neutralize it two years ago?
Maybe we can blame the conditioning. Who’s job is it to make sure this defense is in shape?
Perhaps we can blame the offense for putting the defense in a fragile state of mind late in Sunday’s game thanks to a Pickett interception that forced the unit to defend 64 yards of grass. This must have been what led to the Jets easily marching down the field and scoring the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left.
We can obviously blame coaching—prevent defense, anyone?
Whatever we do, however, we can’t blame the Steelers' defense for simply not being good enough to get the job done.
That last argument is about as effective as the Steelers' defense without T.J. Watt.