Steelers Defense Failed Late Where They Excelled Last Week

Over the course of the past two games, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive and defensive units have had to collude to mount an impressive second-half comeback. Last week against the Bengals, facing a 20-9 halftime deficit, the defense pitched a shutout as the offense added a trio of field goals and, finally, the game-winning touchdown.

Following that go-ahead score, the defense continued their firm play, allowing a 14-yard reception on the first play, but then getting off the field three plays later. The offense wound down the final six minutes of the game without ever giving the Bengals’ offense a chance to touch the ball again.

Things went much differently in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Ravens, of course. The Steelers actually owned a 7-6 lead at the half, but ended up yielding 21 points in the second half. Seven of them came in the sort of end-of-game situation that the defense was able to shut down the week before.

This time around, the Steelers actually needed two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in order to secure that go-ahead drive, but they managed to pull off that feat in a span of just seven minutes and two seconds from the start of the first touchdown drive to the end of the final play of the second.

The Ravens got the ball back, newly trailing, with 7:16 left to play. The Bengals got it back with 7:29 to play. They ran four plays and picked up 10 total yards before punting with 6:11 remaining. Baltimore drove the length of the field from the 25-yard line for a 14-play, nearly six-minute touchdown drive.

From one week to the next, the Steelers defense hardly even bent an inch, and then broke. They allowed the Ravens to convert all four of their third-down opportunities when they had been just five for 13 heading into that final drive. And that included a long of 15 yards on a pass on third and 10 in the middle of the drive.

In truth, much credit must be given to the Ravens and their offense for their impressive, methodical drive, which took up most of the rest of the clock and left the Steelers with just 78 seconds to try to at least tie the game with a field goal, if not win it with a touchdown. Of course, Ben Roethlisberger and company proved up to the task.

Last week, the defense gave them the ball back with about six minutes to play and a lead. On Sunday, they had less than a minute and a half to put some points on the board after the defense got its first crack at the Ravens’ offense following the go-ahead score.

So, last week, it took only one comeback to get the job done. This week, it took two, in a game that carried far greater implications for their opponent, who scraped and clawed all the way to the end, and nearly pulled it off in enemy territory. Let’s just hope this isn’t an ominous sign for the playoffs.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Steelers12

    i hear the so called experts keep knocking our secondary but our problem is pass rushing, after we win this super bowl we need to pluck jabaal sheard from the pats, see what Dion Jordan from the dolphins have to offer and draft 2 OLBs

  • Steel Realist PAul

    I see it as similar to what happened in the Dolphins game. The Ravens ran the ball hard for four quarters and the defense, especially without Cam and Tuitt, was spent.

    Also, Ravens games are about who’s tougher. Recently, that’s been them.

  • Cartman54

    Of course the defense failed. They were absolutely spent by the end of the game. I believe they played 17 more snaps then the offense did. If anything I think the defense deserves a lot of praise for hanging as tough as they did for the majority of the game. They did their job as long as they could and luckily the offense put it together at the best time

  • Mister Wirez

    All backups at D-line hurt, but the missed tackles extended the whole way back to the corners… We never know how it will go week to week..

  • Big White

    I’d rather say that the Ravens succeeded than the Steelers failed. They were miserable at the beginning of the year. However, players like LT Staley, RB Dixon, WR Perriman, FB Juczstek, turned it on late in the season and added to the likes of Flacco, Smith, West, Pitta and Wallace. They were complete offense by the end of the season. Throw in perhaps the greatest kicker in the history of the sport and you have a recipe for a pretty darn good offense by the Ravens.

  • Kevin artis

    Why is Dupree just standing there watching? Rookie mistake.

  • John Noh

    Bingo. Ratbirds ran 80 plays and had the ball 10 minutes more. The turnovers killed the Steelers and the offense under-performed most of the game minus the opening drive and the terrific fourth quarter. Also, there’s a case to be made for letting Juszczyk score on that last play to give the offense time for that epic final drive for the win. Not a strong case, granted, but I’m glad it worked out that way.

  • nutty32

    I thought the D played great under the circumstances of having to defend numerous short fields.

  • RickM

    It was a well-executed, patient drive by the Ravens knowing it was likely 4-down football. Credit it to them for that. They did take a little advantage of our tiring, makeshift D-line on the ground, but that’s not unexpected.

    It’s a dilemma for the Steelers – a rookie and seldom-used back-up on the D-line played 89% and 84% of the snaps, and Dupree and Harrison logged 100% and 99% of them. Guys are just going to get tired come the 4th quarter. Hopefully Tuitt’s back for the playoffs and James gets a day off on Sunday. It would be nice if we could reduce Bud’s snap count as well and have both Lyons and Maxey play decent snap counts.

  • Big Joe

    I agree with the facts. The D gave up a late TD that could have cost us much. However, considering the D-line consisted of a hobbled Matthews, a lightly used reserve in Walton, a PS kid who got called up the day before and who filled in on 20 snaps, etc. they did ok before they got visibly fatigued with all the time on the field. Those guys fought hard but just couldn’t stop the short runs; they were simply too tired. With short passes on top of it, that fatigue also couldn’t mount much of a pass rush either. Yes, the fact is that they gave up that TD, but i can’t ignore the fatigue factor. The offense scored quickly in the 4th so there wasn’t much time for the D to recuperate. They had to have been more than just a little tired.

  • gentry_gee

    The D won them this game by holding them to 3s. Don’t forget Ben served up their offense with prime real estate in the red zone twice.

  • Bill

    The pics killed us and and the out of bounds kickoffs didn’t help either. The Steelers are playing with a lot of young inexperienced players on defense and also on offense. The player that nearly got them beat was the most experienced player, Ben Roethlisberger. On one pic he looked the defender into the interception and the the other seemed to result from not acquiring the defender after he had his back turned executing a play fake. Unfortunately, this what you get with Big Ben; he’ll make great plays but he will also make really bad ones. Hard to go all the way with the QB making bad plays against good teams. Steelers were good yesterday but they were lucky to walk away from this one.

  • DirtDawg1964

    Bingo! And we were playing just five D-line, one of whom was hobbled, another who was on the practice squad, and two others who are depth chart pieces.

    The D was also facing high pressure situations all game long – two drives started at the Raven 40 yard line, two picks on our side of the field, several more drives that crossed midfield. It’s a testimony to how well the boys played that we won this game. They gave us a chance when the offence largely did nothing for three quarters (save that opening drive).

  • WreckIess

    That’s pretty much what you would expect out of a team playing with backup D linemen all game. Walton played all of 85 total snaps on Sunday, Hargrave played 69 total, then the rest played in the 10s and 20s. Never mind the fact that they’re less talented than our normal starters, they also had to play a lot more snaps than starters normally have to play.

  • Sam Clonch

    Get some rest boys. Tuitt’s back next game!!!

  • johnhoien

    Vince Williams needs some snaps ~ he is a proven LB & w/ fresh legs can run stuff. Just felt like the D looked tired on a few drives.. Need some subbing to refresh

  • SilverSteel

    What worries me is when the Ravens played the PATS, they won handily and had no problem with their defense. We have to pull out the immaculate extension. The PATS are still the team to beat IMHO. I hope they get beat by the visiting team early in the POs somehow because as pumped as I am for the Steelers, I do not want to go to Foxborough in January. I do not think there is another team we can’t beat NFC or AFC. Just the Pats worry me.

  • LucasY59

    I would definitely be putting him in and taking Shazier out most of next weeks game (and maybe some Dirty Red for Timmons?) IF he plays well I wouldnt mind seeing VW get some snaps in the playoffs (Vince played well when Shazier was injured earlier in the season, so I would expect some success there)

    Chickillo and Moats could play OLB most of the game (kinda nice to possibly have all 4 backup LBs good enough to play a significant part of the game and still have a good chance of winning (it is against clevLOLand though) Harrison doesnt need to suit up at all (they could even give Jarvis a final game with the team (audition for Free Agency…) so that hopefully the team will get a decent comp for him)

    Justin Gilbert could get a revenge game against the team that dumped him before the season (and give Cockrell/Gay some rest)

    Golden can spell Mitchell and I wouldnt be opposed to Dangerfield getting the 4th qtr (but I want Davis and Burns to play most of the game since they could still use some experience, Shabazz could get the 4th qtr for Artie as well)

    The DL already has the backups in, but I would be ok with seeing more McCullers and less Hargrave (unlike the rookies in the secondary Hargrave could use a little more rest, but would still play over 50% of the Defensive snaps…) will be good to give Tuitt another week off the get the knee closer to 100% for the playoffs

  • RickM

    Agree. The Pats remain the clear favorite. It would be great if K.C. could get a Wild Card, win in Houston and then knock the Pats off. If Oakland gets the Wild Card, either they or Houston would have to beat the Patriots for us, and that seems an extreme longshot.

  • LucasY59

    the missed tackle on hyouscheck (dont even want to try and spell his name correctly) made me think they had no one to blame but themselves if the missed the playoffs (very glad the O bailed them out) there were a lot of runs where the ball carrier got a lot of yards after contact (and most wouldve been minimal gains if the first defender made the tackle) will need to clean that up to make a postseason run

    for the most part I am not too worried about the D, they played well for most of the game (and in bad situations where they had short fields to defend) I think if the Offense can use this win as momentum for the playoffs the D will be adequate to win some games (hopefully 4)

  • LucasY59

    I would let Tuitt rest until the playoff game (or play the first couple series (to see where the knee is at healthwise) and then take a seat on the bench)

  • Sam Clonch

    I’ll rephrase: Tuitt’s back next *meaningful* game!!!

  • LucasY59

    Lyons is still on the PS, but I agree D needs some rest for the playoffs (and there are depth players that are good enough that most of the starters could watch most of the game from the sidelines this weekend) and on offense they just need to keep the superstars from risking injury (maybe rest some OL as well, since Finney and Hubbard have played well)

  • LucasY59

    It will be a tough trip to NE, but I doubt there is any way they make it to the SB without doing so (the game earlier this season was with landry at QB and it was close enough that I have some confidence in leaving foxborough with a W)

    there was a chance the Raiders couldve upset the pats (but its not very likely without Carr) Chiefs are a good team, but I dont think they are much of a threat to the cheatriots

  • LucasY59

    yeah that was frustrating, with the game on the line all 11 need to fly to the football every play, I think he will learn from the mistake (there were a lot of broken/missed tackles)

  • RickM

    Lyons will be activated in my opinion. It’s a no-brainer given some guys who will be rested, or will have their snap count reduced.

  • LucasY59

    Steelers O will need to control TOP in the playoff games (but that means they need to build a lead quickly to do so, the 4th qtr of the game needed the quick scoring drives to come back from the deficit)

  • RickM

    That very likely saved us the game though lol. Thank goodness he did. There’s little way the tired D keeps the Ravens out of the endzone and more time bleeds from the clock. I agree it wasn’t a good effort, but it turned out to be a lucky mistake in my opinion.

  • LucasY59

    Dion Jordan has been a bigger bust than Jarvis Jones

    Sheard wouldve been a good pickup before he went to the cheatriots (but if they are willing to let him go there shouldnt be much interest in him since most pats castoffs have little success after leaving NE)

    I think the Draft will be the most important part to fixing the Pass Rush (and Butler continuing to Blitz) FA signings will be too expensive (especially when they will need to throw a ton of $$$ at AB and Bell this offseason)

  • LucasY59

    who do they drop from the 53 to make room? …Jarvis (no comp for losing him if they did that)

    With Tuitt supposedly returning from injury I dont see the numbers for promoting Lyons (Maxey will become a game day inactive for the playoffs, with Tuitt back as well)

    long term (playoffs) vs short term (resting players in the Browns game) I dont see the benefit of messing with the 53 (if anything I think the roster move wouldve been getting Richardson back so they could sit Bell, but that isnt possible anymore)

  • Steelers12

    Jordan has been a bust but a change of scenery could help and Sheard seems to be in Bellicheck doghouse

  • RickM

    Drop Mihalik to PS, add Lyons. Tuitt won’t be playing. Rest the knee ligaments longer

  • Matthew Marczi

    That’s why I also wrote an article about the red-zone defense earlier today…yet that got one comment, so…

  • Matthew Marczi

    Hopefully that was a “teachable moment” for him. Never assume the play is going to be made. If you’re in a position to assist, do so.

  • Don

    I wish Danny Smith would stop trying to get cute on kickoffs, and have Boswell just kick it deep. Unless impacted by weather, he’s been able to consistently get it to the back of the end zone or through it. I’d rather take away the risk on kickoffs and have them start at the 25.

  • LucasY59

    I would rather they rest some of the OL (so Mihalik would be needed this weekend) let Walton and Maxey take most/all the DE snaps and have Tuitt rest (without needing to make a roster more)

  • LucasY59

    IF they could get Jordan on a no risk “prove it” type deal (no guaranteed $ and minimum salary) I would bring him in to see if he can turn it around

    anyone who is in BB’s doghouse is there for a reason, and again BB seems to know when to let players go (so if he isnt back with NE there is a reason, and Sheard is no longer the player he was when he first went to NE)

  • Steelers12

    yes im of the belief Jordan can be had a non-guaranteed deal and Talib went on to play at a high level after leaving New England so i wouldn’t mind giving Sheard a look because we desperately need pass rushing

  • LucasY59

    I think Talib was more because of salary reasons (and they were able to replace him with Revis)

    IF Sheard is not too expensive I think he might be a decent signing, but Dupree, early rd Rookie, and Chickillo should also help, especially if Butler continues to create pressure with the Blitz (Shazier could end up being the Star pass rusher (but they drop him in coverage a lot as well) he has the playmaking ability, it would just be weird for it not to be a OLB)

  • Steelers12

    yea Lucas i see you are just like me and prefer homegrown talent because you said u would rather have an early rd Rookie but we haven’t hit on them as of late so we need to bring free agent linebackers to compete as well in my opinion

  • Steelers12

    i think Shazier tends to get lost when blitzing due to lack of strength now Timmons seems to be an above average pass rusher

  • LucasY59

    I think both are good (Shazier has speed, and Timmons has the Vet know how) as long as Butler continues to send Blitzes it will help the pass rush

  • Steelers12

    Ok we will revisit this conversation in the offseason, nice dialogue

  • LucasY59

    I am hoping Dupree and Chickillo are part of the homegrown talent (this is only the 2nd yr for both players, so they have room to improve) adding a rookie (or 2?) and bringing in a Vet makes for 6 OLBs (when keeping 5 might be more than they can fit on the 53) …unless they cut Moats (who is a bit more expendable now that he doesnt play as many ST snaps) I guess if the Vet/FA is a low $ deal where if he doenst make the team it wont hurt the teams salary cap I would be fine with it (they wont have much extra $ to spend since AB and Bell should be getting huge contracts)

  • Steelers12

    with the cap rising and Colbert’s way of doing contracts i think they will have enough left over after signing Brown to long term deal and tagging Bell to sign 2 or 3 average or above average players and in my opinion that needs to be a LB, CB and a RB or WR

  • razaard2

    Exactly.

    Also, backup DL, including guys that never played in the NFL. They are simply not used to be on the field for so many snaps. They were exhausted, and the ratbirds converted lots of running 3rd downs because of that

  • LucasY59

    I agree they wont take up the entire cap space with two signings, and even though they will use the tag on LB they will try and work out a long term deal instead of a one yr rental (tagging him just makes it so no other team can outbid/steal him in FA) they will also need to get a extension for Tuitt (so that he doesnt become a UFA) Bells signing should lower his 2017 cap hit (vs the tag amount) and Tuitts will increase his 2017 (so they kinda even out) but that is still 3 fairly large contracts to make, I think there are a few other UFAs they might try and keep also, Landry (if it doesnt cost too much & until they find a better backup) and Shamarko (as a ST player that will be cheap) I agree there could be a few others that come from other teams, but I dont expect any big signings (more like the traditional Steelers FA signings , think Steven Johnson & Ricardo Mathews from last yr) IF Jordan could be cheap I think you are right they might be interesed in bringing him in, but IMO he is still a longshot to be signed or make the team

  • Steelers12

    hey any other LBs draft or free agency u think could help pass rush

  • LucasY59

    Its still pretty early to gauge where the draft prospects are (even though the college season is done there is a lot changes that happen from now till the Draft, after the combine there is usually a much clearer outlook)

    I do think there is a very high probability that the 1st rd pick will be OLB, but who knows if a good pass rusher will last into the end of the 1st rd (and then deciding if the 2nd tier guys are worth reaching for or not, picking BPA at a different position might be better than reaching for another OLB reach/bust)

    Myles Garrett is easily the best prospect but that also makes him a likely top 5 pick, so there is no way the Steelers have any chance at him, Charles Harris from Missouri could be a guy on the Steelers radar (Mizzou has produced some pretty good pass rushers recently) Derek Barnett Tenn, Tim Williams Bama, Ryan Anderson Bama, TJ Watt Wisc, Demarcus Walker FL St, Devante Fields Lville, Deatrich Wise Ark, are some of the names I have seen for pass rushing prospects, but again too early to really know who has a 1st rd Grade (I havent done much research yet, so some of the names I mentioned might not be anywhere close to a 1st rd guy)

    for FA it would be a guess to see who will be available (until teams place tags and have a chance to re-sign their players) and the ones that do become available are either really expensive or not really that good, there are a few that might slip through the cracks, but the position is so Valuable it doesnt happen very often

  • Steelers12

    thoughts on Carl Lawson?

  • LucasY59

    he is definitely another possibility (forgot to list him) I would put him right there with Harris (should be a possible 1st rd target)