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Steelers Extra: Defense Misses Terrell Edmunds, Lose Money Downs (+)

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Terrell Edmunds

PITTSBURGH — What was the problem in Pittsburgh on Sunday? The defense did not show up for the Steelers in the key moments of the New York Jets‘ 4th-quarter comeback. While already missing Ahkello Witherspoon, the absence of Terrell Edmunds, who was in the concussion protocol, loomed large as the Jets attacked the middle of the field consistently.

“That’s tough, man,” safety Tre Norwood said. “You hate to see a guy go down, but that’s something you always have to know as a back end, we have to rally together… they were starting to hit stuff over the middle. We have to make sure we’re tight in coverages.”

In the fourth quarter, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson heated up, going 10 for 12 with two touchdowns in the quarter. 8 of the 10 completions came between the numbers, an area where Edmunds would be all too frequent in his versatile, roaming role as the Steelers’ strong safety.

Wilson scorched Pittsburgh in the intermediate middle of the field behind their linebackers. Edmunds’ absence was certainly felt in that regard. Minkah Fitzpatrick even said that the Jets clearly adapted to what the Steelers were doing, and found a weakness in their defense once Edmunds came out of the game.

“They adapted to our gameplan,” Fitzpatrick said. “They started throwing away from the robber, which is what I was playing.”

The Steelers got stuck in many of their single-high coverages without Edmunds, and they did little disguising. For most of the second half, Fitzpatrick played the robber role out of single-high coverages. It was like there was no strong safety, with Norwood manning a deep zone up top for most of the second half.

That made the Steelers’ gameplan all too predictable as Fitzpatrick sat inside the hashes, and the Jets widened out to just inside the numbers for their attack. On third down and long, they specifically targeted Pittsburgh’s linebackers and put them in tough spots on hi-lo concepts in the intermediate part of the field.

Not only that, but Pittsburgh’s pass rush was not able to get Wilson down consistently. They had an excellent pressure rate of 62 percent, registering 23 pressures on the day. But Wilson escaped multiple times on late drives to keep the situations at third and manageable. There were four conversions on 3rd down and 5 or longer during the final two Jets touchdown drives. They racked up 70 yards and a touchdown on those four completions.

For Cam Heyward, the captain of the defense, Pittsburgh can not lose on the money downs as they did so consistently in the fourth quarter. Without T.J. Watt, Edmunds, Witherspoon, and others, they still need to rise above the ashes in those situations. However, on Sunday, they failed in that task.

“You like to think third down, your money down, your attention picks up to detail,” Heyward said. “Understanding what type of rushes you’re doing. Sometimes they would go to different fronts to buy extra time in the max pro look, and we didn’t clean that up as a front. We didn’t hit home enough. And then when we did hit home, we didn’t clean up on the back end.”

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