The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is not trending in the right direction. Mike Tomlin might say their arrow is pointing down. All of this is coach speak for one simple fact: The Pittsburgh defense is struggling...in a bad way.
The once proud unit has given up 737 yards in the past two weeks, 362 of that yardage coming on the ground, zero sacks and quarterback pressures and hits you can count on one hand. It shouldn't shock anyone the team has lost both of these contests.
How bad has it become? Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier summed up the defense in one word: Garbage.
"Everyone is responsible. We have to hold each other accountable. We have to make sure we can be the defense we can be. Right now, we're looking like garbage. This is terrible right now." Shazier told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The yardage totals for the Steelers defense shouldn't surprise anyone, but how they are surrendering the yardage certainly could shock some. The team is accustomed to getting gashed through the air, but the past two weeks the Steelers have given up 252 and 222 yards to Ryan Tannehill and Tom Brady. Stopping the run, which was once the team's calling card, has been their biggest weakness.
"We're normally known for stopping the run, but, if teams feel like they can get 100 or 200 yards rushing on us every game, they're going to continue to run," Shazier said. "If we keep playing like this, they're going to keep doing this. We have to make sure when we come back we're going to force them to stop running the ball and do whatever we want them to do. Right now, they can do whatever they want to do. and that's going to hurt us. We're going to continue to lose if that happens."
Many will point to injuries, primarily to Cameron Heyward, as one of the main reasons for the soft rush defense, but Shazier hits the nail on the head when saying every member of the defense is responsible for the defensive issues.
Whether it is Artie Burns' lack of tackling, missed assignments, missed tackles or simply not getting off blocks to make a play, the team has a lot of changes to make. Getting Heyward back will certainly help, but one player doesn't make or break the entire defense and the scheme. The team could also be getting Bud Dupree back in the lineup in the coming weeks, which should help boost an ailing pass rush which has the league's worst sack totals, with 8 through 7 games.
This is a turning point for the Steelers, especially their defense. The unit who stopped the run, and were able to tally 48 sacks in 2015, looks like a shell of themselves. They have the bye week to not only get healthy, but to get on the same page defensively. If nothing changes, it will be difficult for the Steelers to do anything worth noting as all the pressure will shift to the offense to win games week in, and week out.