Bell Answered: Steelers Defense Reaches Potential in 13-10 Win
PITTSBURGH — Check your bingo cards. If you had Josh Jacobs having only 44 yards on 15 carries, Davante Adams being stifled to 15 yards on two catches, and the Steelers’ defense picked off Derek Carr three times all in one night, you have won the game.
Perhaps the more surprising thing was the fact that Pittsburgh allowed a methodical 14-play, 72-yard drive on the first drive of the game. It ended with a Hunter Renfrow touchdown and included two third and long conversions. But what looked like a long day for the unit turned into one of their best performances of the season. The offense did not even help them out with as many sustained possessions as they did a week ago in Carolina. Instead, they bounced back and held them to only 160 yards for the rest of the game.
“We just settled in,” cornerback Cam Sutton said. “Obviously, you know, just getting a feel for how they wanted to attack us in the game. They wanted the ball first and with all the elements, they were looking to find a rhythm. There was a lot of good success points on that first drive. But we adjusted well.”
Arthur Maulet read the scripted drive from the Raiders well. He saw it often showcase itself throughout the rest of the game, and Pittsburgh was able to build off that fact. By adjusting to what they saw on the field and meshing it with the tape, the secondary crashed on balls over the middle of the field, especially on the deep over routes that are so prevalent in the Raiders’ scheme. Maulet explained his interception and what he saw.
“They ran a C-gap scheme with an over route,” Maulet said. “The play action pass was there and then I just made the play.”
Maulet noted that given the pressure placed upon the Steelers tradition on the night that Franco Harris’ number was to be retired, it gave Pittsburgh a little extra juice and motivation to work within the week and game. So, when it came time to rise to the challenge, the defense was ready.
“We felt like the first drive there was very scripted very well,” Maulet said. “They had success on it, but after that, they kept showing us everything they did on film. So, we calmed down and just played Steeler defense.”
While the secondary pounced on Carr, the front seven shut down Jacobs. Moreover, they got after Carr. Captain Cam Heyward had his most dominant game of the season, registering two sacks, three tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits on the night. Contributing to help was Alex Highsmith, who racked up another sack, and the disruptions of Larry Ogunjobi opposite of Heyward. But by stopping Jacobs, the pressure became placed upon Carr in bad weather conditions, and he did not step up to the plate.
“When you can make a team one-dimensional you know what’s going to happen next,” Heyward said. “I thought big plays where we were able to get turnovers and then they went back to the run was really big for us, because we were able to get off the field still. Even Coach having the faith to punt again and put the defense on the field. It’s all in the defense to get off the field, and Cam Sutton makes a heck of a play and we’re singing his praise tonight.”
Jacobs had 26 rushing yards on the first drive alone and got nothing from there. Pittsburgh played gap disciplined and stiffened their pass coverage on the back end. It all came together to create a perfect storm. Minkah Fitzpatrick moved all around the field with Terrell Edmunds out with his hamstring injury, and Fitzpatrick saw the evolution of the defense over the game. If there was a reason why the Steelers won on Saturday, it was because of their incredible defensive effort. But Fitzpatrick does not want this game to be a one-off.
“This is the standard that we as a unit need to play to,” Fitzpatrick said. “You look back at the season, we’ve had injuries and a lot of those guys have been out. But now they’re getting back in here and we’re starting to get really consistent in the past four or five weeks. We really feel like we’re building something.”
The Steelers’ defense could get a test they have been waiting for next week if Lamar Jackson returns to action. If not, they still have an opportunity to create a bounce-back game after the Ravens and JK Dobbins dominated them in the trenches in the first matchup. But maybe they just need to approach that game with the same mentality they had in this one and settle down.