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Steelers Analysis

How the Steelers Keep Killing Their Own Defense



Pittsburgh Steelers Teryl Austin
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin coaches during minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, June 9, 2022 -- ED THOMPSON

INDIANAPOLIS — The Steelers have a massive problem on defense aside from the injuries that have continued to plague them. This group has enough talent to squeeze that should get them to the playoffs, but instead, they are heading backward in a massive way. On defense, it’s largely because of their poor personnel usage.

This is something that I keep coming back to as a massive question mark. The personnel usage on the defense is baffling. Pittsburgh puts its undermanned linebacker corps in terrible spots in the red zone. For the last three weeks, they have kept running man coverage in those situations, and teams leak running backs out of the backfield and get tight ends lined up against linebackers to shred them. I will acknowledge that they did not communicate well on one zone coverage that allowed a touchdown, but that’s what you have to run to protect these linebackers.

Pittsburgh leaves those guys out to dry with schematic incompetence. That’s before getting to the front four. Larry Ogunjobi gets run into the dirt when he is a flashy, hot-and-cold guy. He is not meant to play 80 percent of the snaps. That’s not what it is at all. Meanwhile, Keeanu Benton can not play in sub-packages and keeps having his snap counts cut more and more. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith can run into dust when Nick Herbig and Markus Golden are there for capable rotational snaps.

All this comes together to create a terrible environment for players to put into their strengths and weaknesses across the defense aside from the secondary. The Steelers leave way more meat on the bone than they should on the defensive side of the football with mindboggling decisions like these.

All in all, it leaves the defense sapped and tired, so by the time the game goes along, they get worn down and can allow offenses to do what they want throughout the game. That’s a coaching point, and it has hurt the Steelers’ defense consistently throughout recent weeks.

But when you see guys streaking open and beating the Steelers to the corner, it’s not hard to see why, and even before the injuries, it was true that this team was not athletic enough from the linebackers’ back. The secondary, in particular, is too slow. This group badly needs youth injection to run more of those mixed-man coverage looks they love to run. Their disguises fall flat and can put them in tough spots to succeed because they get beaten. It’s simple as to why — the athleticism is not there. But they need an injection of smart rotations, too.