The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense had their share of issues this season, none larger than their knack for giving up big plays.
Whether it was to Jacoby Brissett, Brett Hundley or Blake Bortles, the Steelers’ defense didn’t discriminate. Big plays were surrendered by all of them, and more, throughout the 2017-2018 season.
In fact, just take a look at this statistic from Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, per the Elias Sports Bureau:
Per @EliasSports: Steelers defense allowed 10 plays of 50+ yards, tied for most in league (Oakland); allowed 41 plays of 25+ yards, third most in NFL.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 19, 2018
The overall number of big plays surrendered was staggering, but the question then becomes, “What caused all of these big plays?”
The answer to that question is multifaceted, but the key cog in all of this is Ryan Shazier. Shazier was the hub of communications on the defense. He was the player who had the microphone in his helmet and was making corrections at the line of scrimmage. Shazier got the message to the defensive front, then to the secondary, and everything was set. Sure, there were run-stopping issues, but I’ll get to that in a second.
There were two main injuries which hurt the Steelers in terms of big plays surrendered through the air. Shazier’s season-ending injury and Joe Haden’s fractured leg. When those two players went down, the defense suffered in a lot of ways. Coty Sensabaugh did his best, but he was a far cry from what Haden brought to the secondary. Vince Williams, and any number of other inside linebackers, never made up for Shazier’s athleticism and speed.
In defensing the running game, the Steelers were hurt by Shazier’s absence, but they also surrendered big runs when Shazier was in the lineup. This comes down to discipline, and preparedness — two things the Steelers’ defense lacked this year on more than one occasion.
As the Steelers now head into the off-season, getting this defense right at both inside linebacker, and probably safety, will be huge question marks entering free agency, and the prep work for the 2018 NFL Draft.
While many suggest the big play issues were just one player, it’s so much more that’s keeping this defense from getting over the proverbial hump. I took a stab at answering a lot of questions on the team’s big-play issues in the podcast in the player above. Give the short (8-minute) podcast a listen, and then give your opinion in the comment section below!