It’s hard to imagine a defensive lineman’s absence having such an impact on the outcome of a game but with second-year Steeler Stephon Tuitt out with a knee injury, the Steelers struggled mightily in several areas in the loss to the Chiefs.
The first thing you may have noticed is that both Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier were very quiet yesterday. In Shazier’s defense, it was his first game back after a long layoff due to injury but still, neither guy had what you’d call any impact in the game. Part of the reason for this was due to Tuitt’s absence.
Because Cam Thomas is not located anywhere in the same stratosphere talent-wise as Tuitt is, that allowed the Chiefs to get their linemen on both Shazier and Timmons much quicker and much cleaner than they normally should have been able. Ask any linebacker and they’ll you there’s nothing worse than when offensive linemen are constantly in your face and are keeping you from getting to the ball carrier.
You may have also noticed that the pass rush yesterday, especially up the middle, was sorely lacking. Again, I attribute a great deal of that to the absence of Tuitt. With he and Cam Heyward in the middle, they’ve been pretty consistent with ‘up the middle’ pressure so far this season. With Tuitt in street clothes, Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler was at a loss in terms of how to get pressure on Alex Smith.
When you have two guys who can push the pocket the way Tuitt and Heyward can then that allows other players opportunities to make big plays. That coincides perfectly with the theme from yesterday that the team didn’t make enough, if any, “splash plays.”
To suggest that the Steelers need defensive line depth is an understatement. Cam Thomas and Dan McCullers are both big bodies but they don’t offer much more than being space eaters and even Thomas struggles with that job. Rookie L.T. Walton is playing hard but just doesn’t possess the experience and strength needed to make an impact.
Essentially, Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward can’t afford to miss time. An absence by either one creates problems that are difficult to overcome.
photo courtesy thescore.com