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2 Massive Concerns With the Steelers Defense



Patriots TE Hunter Henry
Patriots TE Hunter Henry catches a touchdown against the Steelers, Dec. 7, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

In the NFL, injuries happen. That’s why defensive coordinator Teryl Austin shrugged off when the Steelers lost two inside linebackers. But when it comes time to get to the third-string inside linebackers and sometimes even fourth-string, it’s hard to expect that unit to stay afloat. Outside of Elandon Roberts, the Steelers inside linebackers are not staying afloat.

Mykal Walker was picked on for two straight games. His coverage stats look ugly. Pittsburgh is faltering in the middle of the field in the worst way, and that has established cracks in a bend that don’t break defense, which has started to break a lot more recently.

Steelers LB Mykal Walker

Steelers LB Mykal Walker at practice on Nov. 15, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Hunter Henry and JuJu Smith-Schuster were the Trey McBride-like equivalents of this game. Two big-bodied, physical receivers that the Patriots attacked over the middle of the field to make plays. More than that, Ezekiel Elliott turned out to be an exceptional performance. But that was mainly due to the Steelers putting their linebackers in bad spots. Walker got caught looking in the backfield and having to get to the flat far too often. Realistically, they put Walker in bad spots to succeed and did not adjust until it was far too late.

But the most problematic thing is that the Patriots went to the same gameplan that worked for the Cardinals. They hit the Steelers linebackers all night. Pittsburgh had no answer until they were suddenly down 21-3. Those adjustments should have been made during the week. It was known that this was the defense’s weakness. It felt like the Steelers did very little to cloud against that weakness and were repeatedly burnt for it.

Eventually, they did adjust. The Patriots got virtually nothing going in the second half on the offensive side of the football. But it was not enough, and Pittsburgh’s adjustments came far too late to fill in the cracks left by the tight ends.

There are ways to scheme around this weakness the Steelers have. It will be an issue for them for the rest of the season. They do not have the talent at inside linebacker nor the depth at safety to withstand it. But something will have to change, and it likely will against the Indianapolis Colts. That doesn’t mean it will work.