PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have problems that can be corrected on both sides of the ball, but there’s no question which has been the more successful unit thus far in the 2023 season.
The Steelers enter play in Week 15 with the No. 7 scoring defense and the No. 27 scoring offense, and yet, when head coach Mike Tomlin broke down the team’s 21-18 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 14 in his press conference on Monday, he started with the failures of the defense.
It makes sense in some ways. The defense has talent at all three levels and is full of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, and might have the best defensive player in the world in T.J. Watt. It’s also run by Tomlin himself and a defensive coordinator in Teryl Austin that has had success in the league before.
Compare that to the offense, where first-time offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner is leading a unit with backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the overall youngest group of offensive players in the league.
So when you look at what ways the Steelers could quickly and easily correct problems that cropped up against the Patriots, a lot of the simplest answers come up on defense. The Steelers failed to keep a lid on things down the field, with JuJu Smith-Schuster getting loose several times. They again struggled to defend the tight end for the second week in a row, and added running back Ezekiel Elliott getting loose in the passing game as a problem. They sacked Bailey Zappe just twice and caused only one turnover, while letting the Patriots score their second-most points of the season.
They can be a lot better than that. But just because they can be, is it fair to expect them to continue to be, while the other side of the ball continues to flail and flounder? Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says yes.
“That’s our job,” Austin said Wednesday. “Our job is to stop the other team from scoring and it doesn’t matter what happens on the other side of the ball. Our job is to stop them. That’s a variable that we can’t control. The only variable we can control is how well we stop the other team and if we don’t do a good job of it, that’s our fault. If we lose by a point, no matter what the score is, that’s our fault, because we allowed their offense to score one more than us.”
That’s a pretty incredible statement from Austin. Does he really believe that it would be the defense’s fault if they lost a game 3-0? Maybe. But he’s definitely not complaining about the defense needing to shoulder the load going forward.