Steelers Defense Has Become Second-Half Wrecking Crew
BALTIMORE — The Pittsburgh Steelers has not been the overall dominant kind of unit that many thought it could be throughout the 2022 season.
The Steelers dealt with the absence of star outside linebacker T.J. Watt for most of the season and struggled to find answers at the outside cornerback and inside linebacker spots.
Overall, they’ve been good, if not great. The Steelers enter the final week of the regular season 11th in scoring defense, 15th in yards allowed, 21st in passing yards allowed and seventh in rushing yards allowed.
But in one very specific and important area, they have been completely dominant for the last few weeks.
It’s been a pretty good run overall for the Steelers defense as the team has won five of its last six games. The Steelers have given up more than 20 points in a game just twice in that span.
But in the second halves of those games, they’ve been almost untouchable.
The Steelers allowed a field goal drive on the opening possession of the second half to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, then got three straight punts to give the offense chances to take the lead and a game-sealing Minkah Fitzpatrick interception.
It was the same story against the Las Vegas Raiders the week before, as the Steelers had forced three interceptions and three punts in six second-half Raiders possessions.
The Steelers haven’t given up a second-half touchdown since the Atlanta Falcons scored on the second drive of the third quarter in Week 13. In Pittsburgh’s last four games, the Steelers have given up just 15 total second-half points.
FALCONS, WEEK 13
6 plays, 15 yards, punt
8 plays, 70 yards, touchdown
16 plays, 78 yards, field goal
1 play, 0 yards, interception
RAVENS, WEEK 14
6 plays, 34 yards, punt
5 plays, 11 yards, punt
13 plays, 57 yards, field goal
6 plays, 8 yards, end of game
PANTHERS, WEEK 15
11 plays, 49 yards, field goal
7 plays, 27 yards field goal
5 plays, 29 yards, field goal
RAIDERS, WEEK 16
1 play, 0 yards, interception
5 plays, 20 yards, interception
6 plays, 12 yards, punt
5 plays, 13 yards, punt
3 plays, 5 yards, punt
2 plays, 0 yards, interception
RAVENS, WEEK 17
8 plays, 57 yards, field goal
4 plays, 25 yards, punt
3 plays, -2 yards, punt
3 plays, 8 yards, punt
5 plays, 23 yards, interception
It’s like the Steelers have flipped a switch in the second half of games and gone from a good defense to a completely unstoppable one. They even faced field-position adversity against the Ravens, when Baltimore got a long Justice Hill kickoff return to set the Ravens up at the Pittsburgh 40 yard-line, right on the edge of Justin Tucker’s field goal range. Baltimore lost two yards on three plays and punted.
“We just played more stout,” defensive captain Cam Heyward said. “There was a chance for them to really get points on the board with the long kickoff return and guys stepped up and got off the field quick and made them punt.”
But of course, there’s more to a four-game streak like this than individual players stepping up and making plays. The Steelers are demonstrating a master class in making in-game adjustments, with their defensive braintrust of Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin and Brian Flores deserving much of the credit for the second-half adjustments that have given the Steelers so much success.
“Just attention to detail as games keep going,” Heyward said. “Everyone’s got nuance plays at the beginning of the game, but then everything tends to settle in and I thought we were able to attack it after time.”
Against the Ravens, the Steelers mixed and matched personnel groupings throughout the first half, then dialed in what was working in the second half. At the halftime break, Baltimore had 129 total yards. In the second half, the Ravens managed only 111 more.
“At the early portions of the season, man, this game could be described as checkers,” Tomlin said. “At the latter portions of the season, it’s chess. And guys like me get a chance to earn our keep.”