Steelers Defense Still Not Getting Off The Field On Critical Downs

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has absolutely had its ups and downs over the course of the season. They have had their areas of strength—the red-zone performance, for an example, which they showed on Thursday—but there have mostly been weaknesses that they have only been able to be successful when they are able to mask them.

One issue they have had through much of the season is getting off the field on third and fourth down. While the Steelers did have two fourth-down stops at the goal line against the Colts, overall, they as a defensive unit allowed 10 of 15 opportunities that reached third down continue to prolong a drive or to score.

Now, they started the game off well with a sack that wound up in a third and 20 that ended in a tackle on the play for a loss of five, but that would be the highlight of the night in terms of the third-down defense.

On the Colts’ second drive of the game, they converted two third downs before finally failing on the third attempt. They first converted on third and six with a pass to tight end Dwayne Allen. An 18-yard completion to T.Y. Hilton evaporated a third and eight. Finally, by the time that reached the Steelers’ 29, James Harrison was able to record a sack on third and one, and the ensuing field goal attempt went wide.

The drive that followed, you might recall, was prolonged by a fake punt. After throwing incomplete in third and six, the Colts executed a pass on a fake punt that went for 35 yards, down to the eight-yard line, and they scored two plays later.

Both of the Colts’ drives that ended in goal-line stands included at least one third-down conversion, though the first only faced a third and one. On the second drive, however, in addition to a third and three, Indianapolis was able to move the sticks on third and 15 with a 16-yard pass. Three plays later, they added an 18-yard gain on third and three.

They even converted on fourth and four from the Steelers’ 18-yard line on a 12-yard pass that gave them first and goal. So on that drive alone, they salvaged no less than four opportunities for Pittsburgh’s defense to get off the field by allowing conversions on third down three times, and once on fourth down.

Just for good measure, the Colts also added a pair of conversions on third and seven on their penultimate drive of the game, though the second of the two was immediately followed by the Steelers’ defense’s second interception of the game.

Clearly, this defensive unit has issues getting off the field when they have the opportunity to do so, considering that Scott Tolzien was able to do this to them. If they can’t start shortening defensive drives, their luck in the red zone is going to wear thin.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • VaDave

    Yep, got to agree, they need to improve in this area, especially in the middle of the field, but in all fairness, they did manage to get off the field on 4th down twice after two 1st and goal inside the five situations. You give a team 8 shots inside the 5 and give up zero points, that has to count for something. How about that rook that stopped their QB at the one? These kids are getting better each week. Even Burns is starting to shake that softy tackler rep. I know, still miles to go.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Assuming we get to the playoffs, the D might be rounding into form as Burns, Davis, Hargrave (and Dupree!) start getting it figured out. I think we are going to be really good next year. This might be a year too early, but who knows, they could go from SB favorite to written off to surprise SB competition.

  • Ken Krampert

    Cleveland game was similar, especially on 4th down. Luckily they were two bad teams. We are going to have to score a ton against the Giants to win. 30 or more to compete.

  • Jimbo

    The d-line isnt getting it done, no push. any good QB will have enough time to make the completions over the middle.

  • Ralph Wagner

    No doubt Eli Manning will tear the Steelers defense coverage to shreds. The Steelers have a long away to go.

  • Frank

    I will bet you 100 .00 to a bag of sheeeeeit

  • Steeler-Drew

    The two that stand out were towards the end of the game. A 3rd and 4 converted on Burns followed by the 3rd and I think 13 on Cockrell. They were going after Colzein all game but chose to not only blitz but gave up big cushions at the same time. The Cockrell play was inexcusable. He was giving up what seemed like a 15 yard cushion before the ball was even snapped. The guy ran a simple out pattern of 13 yards and Cockrell failed to recognize or make a play on the ball. If they are not going to apply pressure on certain 3rd and longs they should not be playing with those ridiculous cushions.