The Pittsburgh Steelers defense goes into the locker room at halftime having allowed only 6.5 points on average over four games. That's the third-lowest mark in the NFL.
Then something happens. Whether it's implementing the wrong adjustments, a lack of adjustments being made or simple fatigue, the Steelers allow an average of 18.2 points during the final two quarters of the game, the third-highest total in the NFL.
The word "collapse" is easy to use here.
It started in Cleveland, when they surrendered 24 points in the second half. Baltimore tacked on 16 and, while the Steelers ran Carolina out of the building in the second half of their Week 3 win, the Panthers still scored 16 points. Add in the 17 points Tampa Bay scored last week and the Steelers effectively have one of the poorest second-half defenses in the NFL.
But still they've got one of the best in the first half. What gives here?
With an average of 10.5 points coming in the fourth quarter, that's nearly half of their points allowed during the final 15 minutes of the game. This is a killer stat and one that fully characterizes a unit that has shown a high level of promise, only to miss big-play opportunities and eventually give the game away.
The offense has to take some accountability in this as well. The Steelers are eighth in the NFL with 14 points per game in the first half. They fall to 21st in the league with 10.8 points after halftime. Perhaps more telling, the Steelers own 60.9 percent of possession time in the first half, that's the second-highest total in the league. But they fall to 27th overall in the second half with 44.9 percent.
Failing to maintain possession in the second half, thus taxing a defense that hasn't shown it can keep pace with opponents in the latter portion of games, is a direct cause of the team's 2-2 record. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said recently, they're lucky to be 2-2 when looking at the stats. Better production in these areas, though, could have them at 3-1 or even 4-0. Much of the rest of their season will be determined based on how well both sides of the ball can perform in the second half.