Steelers Defense Disappoints Playing With Most Of Starting Lineup

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now gearing up for a postseason run. Their regular season finale meant nothing to their playoff status, so one might argue that they may not have been putting their best foot forward. The effort that they showed to win the game might suggest otherwise, but either way, I don’t see a very good excuse to explain the defense’s overall performance against a poor Cleveland Browns offense.

The Steelers rested four starters on offense—all Pro Bowlers—but the only player who was healthy who sat on the defensive side of the ball, despite dressing, was the 38-year-old James Harrison, who was primarily replaced by Jarvis Jones—who had a sack, a forced fumble, and a batted pass at the line, by the way.

The only other player of note missing was Stephon Tuitt, who has been dealing with a knee injury that he suffered three games ago. So the Steelers have been playing with a thin defensive line. But they performed much better in the past two games against two better offenses than they did today.

Robert Griffin III did not throw a touchdown pass in his first four starts this year. He threw two today, to a pair of tight ends, in the first half. He completed just under 75 percent of his passes, though for just 232 yards on 40 attempts, and the defense did take him down four times—which is below his average, as he was sacked 18 times in his first four starts.

Ryan Shazier did come up with an interception at the goal line, and as mentioned, Jones did force a fumble from just five yards out. The defense came up with two turnovers in the red zone, so that has to count for something.

But the Browns still went three for six in the red zone, and two for four with goal to go, and they converted eight of 15 plays on third down. They totaled 231 yards on the ground on 30 rushes, averaging 7.1 yards per play.

Isaiah Crowell gained 152 yards on his own on 19 carries, including a 67-yard run. Griffin added 32 yards on his own on five carries, and they had a few others contribute to their overall total. The young, thin, and tired defensive line was clearly not at its best against the Browns’ running game today.

There was also the double move that Artie Burns got burned on by Terrelle Pryor for 43 yards that looked to set up a game-winning score, before Crowell fumbled at the three-yard line. And the defense did at least show hustle in recovering the ball on a botched snap late in the first half that set up the offense’s first score.

Overall, this is certainly not the defensive performance that the Steelers were looking to put out on tape in their final showing before the playoffs. Down only two starters, it’s hard to argue that this should have been expected. It was a bit of a disappointing showing, but, given the circumstances, perhaps it should not be viewed as a foreshadowing of things to come.

About the Author

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

    Yes we had most of our starters but without Tuitt and Heyward and partially Hargraves, I knew it would be tough.
    We better hope Tuitt and Hargraves and Mathews are all healthy next week against the Dolphins.

  • Steel Tippin

    Simple, no james harrison.

  • Nathaniel Sullivan

    They were playing with no heart in the first half, which makes me believe that today doesn’t foreshadow what’s to come.

  • mem359

    Hopefully they were just playing vanilla defense, like they do in the preseason.
    We’ve seen past Steeler’s defenses make a drastic improvement when they are scheming properly.
    (Hopefully Alex and the others will figure it out when/if they look at the game tape.)

  • Big White

    Hue Jackson lost that game today for Cleveland. First and goal from the 1 yard line. Fade pass incomplete to corner of end-zone. Next play, disaster WR screen loss of 16. How can you not run the ball after the day the Crowell had averaging 4.5 per touch for the season? Awful, but i’ll take it.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Maybe he wanted that first pick in the draft.

  • Abraham Gonzalez Jr.

    Browns played good on offense today gotta give them credit…. Let’s go steelers squish the fish

  • joewalsh

    the defense is what it is. Not up to Steelers standards.

  • Ike Evans

    Dline injuries taking its toll


    Not a great performance, but clearly a let down game that meant nothing to the Steelers so I can live with it even if they had lost….still nice to go out with a win tough.

  • Dan

    This wasn’t exactly the most inspired effort from the Steelers, at least not early on. The game was irrelevant to the playoffs, gotta wonder if maybe there was a bit of slacking off. Meanwhile, the Browns wanted this one. Beating their rival at the end would have made those first 14 losses sting a lot less. But, Browns gonna Browns, and the Steelers took advantage.


    I haven’t read one word of this article (yet) but I will say this.

    The D was never ever going to propel this team.

    Like it or not folks (and there IS a lot to like) if we win #7, it’s not cuz this D is sooooooo good. It is squarely on BBs shoulders and those of the O.

    This will IMO be the first Steelers SB Champ that won by virtue of explosive offense!!

    And I’m not saying that they will win it.

  • WilliamSekinger

    I’d rather that this uninspired, lazy, and downright terrible performance rears it’s head now than in the playoffs.

    Buckle up the chin straps boys and bring all you’ve got. Need another 4-0 run out of yinz starting next week.

  • SteelerFanInMD

    The defense reminded me of the games against the Dolphins and Eagles. I hope we don’t play that way next week.

  • Ryan

    I’m not overly worried about it. They played better in the 2nd half minus the 1 scoring drive. I think they’ll step up throughout the playoffs and hopefully we get Tuitt, Hargrave and Mathews back.

  • ryan72384

    The defense is never going to be able to close out a game and win it for us. Not going to happen. They will almost always give up the go ahead score or a huge splash play right after the offense comes to life and gets the lead. The dline looks so gassed at the end of games but you can’t really blame them. It seems like they are on the field 90 percent of the game and always trying to keep us in games until the offense wakes up. We just don’t have enough bodies up front if Tuitt and Matthews are both out. The push that the Browns line was getting today was embarrassing. Shazier is such a playmaker but geez does he remind me of Troy sometimes with his reckless play and missed tackles that always seem to result in a big gain.

  • Orlysteel

    They will take it to another level next week with Harrison and Tuitt coming back, it all starts with shutting down the run.

  • Steve

    Very true, James does a good job of that. With Tuitt back, they can shut down the run game.

  • Steve

    Why??? The D was intact except Harrison and Tuitt.

  • Steve

    Thats where it all starts, without the D line, we are getting ran all over.

  • Steve

    Cockrell was ran by numerous plays. Yes he is a CB and watches a WR, but the guy needs to see what is going on and make a tackle sometimes.

  • DirtDawg1964

    The screen was a bad play but he likely was remembering they ran it from the two yard line, with under a minute to play, and fumbled.

  • Charles Haines

    Is anybody worried about the lack of tackling? I’m not sure you can teach attack angles at this stage.

  • ryan72384

    Yep Cockrells run support is BAD

  • Mister Wirez

    What’s alarming is the missed tackles and that TE’s are eating this Defense alive.

    Buckle up, or it will be a short playoff run… AGAIN.

  • Tough to say, I remember they jumped out to a 20-0 lead on Baltimore only to loose 25-20. They have a some good players on their offense but when you start 6 QBs in the same year, that may be why they aren’t winning much.

    Tunch said this was the first game of the year that a QB who started a game for the Browns finished it. If that is true, its hard to gain any type of consistency with a revolving door at QB.

    Also, had the offense had a full compliment of players, this game would have never been close. AB torches Haden every game and Ben find him. Maybe the Browns still score some, but they wouldn’t have owned the time of possession battle like they did in the first half. What I’m saying is the defense would have gotten more rest earlier in the game.

  • NinjaMountie

    I’m not stressing this defensive performance at all. If they have a bad game against Miami it has nothing to do with this game. If they play well it has nothing to do with this game.
    Ben said he would rather sit out this game. He was given what he wanted. Do you really think that the D thought differently. I know it’s a game and they are paid well but these guys have all played enough football they’d have rather sat today….and it showed.
    I also wonder how much effort was really put forth by the coaching staff to game plan for this team. Did they start planning for Miami early? I sure would have.

  • Good one!

  • Mark G Hunter

    No defense, no championship! Unless the other 12 teams that quailify for the playoffs, somehow have a worse defense than they have, faces them on their playoff run.

  • SilverSteel

    Love the win, but why would Shazier (our most injury plagued LB) be in there in overtime or the 4th quarter for that matter? That seems like tempting fate to me. Also, at his age and after all the full games played, I see Timmons in there late also. I was all for playing Burns and Davis, but Shazier and Timmons I just don’t get late in the game. Wow.. I would like them to be fresh next week and not banged up.

  • Bill

    Shazier misses a lot of tackles but some of that is due to the fact that he gets close to the ball more and quicker than anyone else; still the misses are so frustrating! And one would think he would cover the TE more often but the defenses don’t seem to be set up to do that most of the time. As a result, when he does cover the TE, it’s usually at a trail. Also, the defense seems to badly overreact to play fakes which gets them significantly out of position.

  • Disqussant

    Something about this game… I’d rather the defense completely sit on its a$$ without trying versus give up 20-odd points while showing effort.


    Ehh. Meh. Whatever.
    The O didn’t exactly light it up today – especially the O line


    How many teams have you seen win a SB strictly based on great O?


    To mem’s point, it ‘felt’ like a preseason game.
    Did you see the empty seats on what was a Jan day as good as it gets in the ‘burgh?


    I would be careful jumping to conclusions about our D based on today.
    This game had the high tension of two snails running the mile!!
    As preseason as a game gets in regular season!!

  • Lambert58

    I agree, the Defense was sub-par today. Playing down to an inferior opponent again. Though I will say that even with only Harrison out, it changes the complexion of the pass rush. And that affects the whole defense.

  • Norton

    Indeed. The talking heads focus on his decreased production as a pass rusher – from insane to average (at 38) – but he is still sound in setting the edge in run D and disrupting blocking schemes.

    Having him on the field also might have diminished that ‘attitude problem’ on defense Shazier mentioned after the game.

  • JB Burgess

    I’ve seen enough of Keith Butler’s defenses. Fire him and hire Wade Phillips.

  • JB Burgess

    This defense has been trash for 5 seasons. The smoke and mirrors is over. I wish someone would do a Bradshaw on Keith Butler. The Rooney’s make a horrendous mistake keeping him on.

  • JB Burgess

    Rest didn’t matter. They were smoked early and often. This defense will cost the Steelers. Shazier is missing tackles and pointing fingers. Like an idiot.

  • Steve

    The Steelers made a Big mistake lettng LeBeau go. Offense gets you to the SB, Defense wins it.

  • Steve

    With Tuitt and Hargrave, we”ll be ok. The Dolphins have a great run game, it will probably be the best we see in the playoffs, unless we see Dallas in the SB. Shade Tree was gassed, cause he needed a Burger. Worked too much ate too little today, need Moma’s cookin. Our D will be fine with James back. Fins aint runnin around his side, else he’ll be like the Streaker – slammed.

  • John Pennington

    Tackle tackle tackle the defense better learn how to do this before next Sundays game or they will the have the off season to learn how to tackle.These guys take this for granted but they will learn big lesson next week if they cant tackle.