The current defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers is not going to make anyone forget the Steel Curtain of 1970’s, “Blitzburgh” of the 1990’s or the Dick LeBeau defenses of the 2000’s. What you may forget however is that this unit has turned in some pretty damned good performances in recent weeks.
Consider that since losing 37-30 to the Cincinnati Bengals at home on November 20th, the Teryl Austin-led unit has surrendered 17 points to the Colts. 16 points to the Falcons, Ravens and Panthers. And 13 to the Raiders and to the Ravens last night. I’m no math genius but that works out to an average of about 15 points per game. In today’s NFL, that’s winning football regardless of who the opponent is.
Had the offense been able to hold up its end of the bargain, this team would be 7-0 over their last seven rather than 5-2 but nothing can be done about that.
The defense has largely survived on a “bend don’t break” mentality. With T.J. Watt less than 100% and Inside Linebacker play that has been average at best, it’s been a struggle. Last night Mark Robinson finally got some important reps and didn’t disappoint while Robert Spillane continues to play his ass off and over-achieve like few I’ve seen before.
The defensive line has been a constant teeter-totter of up and down play with Cameron Heyward being really the only constant. Larry Ogunjobi has been valuable but has dealt with injuries. Chris Wormley is out for the season and Isaiahh Loudermilk hasn’t taken that “next step” that’s been expected. Rookie DeMarvin Leal has missed time but is clearly a guy they like and why not? The young man hustles and goes above and beyond when he gets his chances. Tyson Alualu and Montravious Adams have contributed to what has become a ‘collective effort.’ Individually, these guys have been as the kids say “mid.” But as a group in recent weeks they are getting things done.
Last night in Baltimore Watt looked as much like himself as he has all season and while Alex Highsmith didn’t have those huge moments last night he’s been a big asset as well especially when Watt was out. The secondary has warts, but they also have smarts and a penchant for coming up big at the right time.
Terrell Edmunds’ pass breakup in the fourth quarter was the play of the game in my book. The Ravens were looking to get into field goal range and nothing more when Tyler Huntley hit tight end Isaiah Likely over the middle. Edmunds’ hit from behind jarred the ball free forcing the Ravens to punt. If Likely catches that ball then Justin Tucker gets a chance to extend the lead to seven.
The play really was a perfect example of this defense in recent weeks. Just when it looks like it has bent too much it somehow finds a way to get the job done.
Regardless of whether this team makes the postseason or not, the defense has been more than acceptable in the last six weeks. They haven’t been memorable and they won’t be earning any nicknames but they’re keeping the team in the fight and that’s about all you can ask right now.