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What Happened to Highly Rated Steelers Defense in Playoff Loss?

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PITTSBURGH — The Steelers did not have a banner day in any facet of their game in the season-ending playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns.

While the Pittsburgh offense had scuffled to the finish line in the regular season, the Steelers’ defense was one of the best units in the league throughout the regular season.

The Steelers finished the 2020 regular season third in yards per game allowed with 305.8 and third in points per game allowed with 19.5 per game.

On Sunday, the defense allowed 390 yards and 48 points in a season-ending loss to the Browns.

What happened?

“The question is, what went right?” defensive captain Cam Heyward said. 

“We didn’t stop the run early. We didn’t execute. And then the quick passing really got the best of us and yards after catch. Our tackling was poor.”

Of course, the Steelers’ offense didn’t help matters. They gave up a defensive touchdown and Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions, which the Browns were able to turn into 17 points off turnovers.

“We didn’t give up field goals,” Heyward said. “Even when we did turn the ball over, we still had a chance to fight, but it all was terrible tonight.”

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Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 124 yards rushing, but it was big yards-after-catch plays in the passing game that really hurt the Pittsburgh defense.

In the first quarter, Jarvis Landry beat Mike Hilton in zone coverage on a third and medium, them made Terrell Edmunds miss and broke Hilton’s tackle to score from 40 yards out.

In the fourth quarter, a screen pass to Chubb went for 40 yards again after poor recognition upfront, Chubb shed Hilton and Vince Williams, and Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Sutton gave poor effort in pursuit for a back-breaking touchdown.

“When we don’t execute at a high level, that’s what’s going to happen,” Heyward said. “You know, we preach execution. And we do it, you know, good results and when we don’t it puts the defense at risk. You know, we never got a rhythm.”

The Steelers defense was, of course, also missing key players, as linebackers Devin Bush and Bud Dupree and cornerback Joe Haden didn’t play in Sunday’s game.

“We lost some great players, but you know, injuries are part of the game,” Heyward said. “And I can never make excuses and say injuries caught up to us but you know, there are things that have to be addressed. We just had one of the worst showings as a defense the whole year. We did not play complementary football. We did not have our offense’s back.

“It starts at the top with me. It was not acceptable.”

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