So, you heard the news that Ben Roethlisberger was ineligible to play, and one can only imagine how you felt about Mason Rudolph as your starting quarterback. This commentary, however, is not about Rudolph; it is about a real problem that is plaguing the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
For much of this season, the Steelers defense has been the overall strength of the team. In this game, however, a major weakness within this unit was well exposed.
As much as we value sacks and interceptions on defense, success happens in the trenches. Simply put, if a team loses battles in the trenches, they are more likely to lose. For the Steelers defense, they lost practically every battle upfront, allowing a total of 229 yards on the ground against a team that was winless coming into this contest.
We can make as many excuses for this as we so desire, such as the absence of Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt being a factor. The reality is that this defense needs to be better conditioned to win in the trenches more often than not. To their credit, the Steelers defense made the proper adjustments and did a much better job of stopping the run. In the end, the Lions came out of Heinz Field with a well-earned tie, which can be viewed as a win considering their record.
In a season which has seen the Steelers struggle to sustain leads and make games harder than they should be, the foundation of this stems from their difficulties in the trenches. Regardless of injuries, the Steelers have a strong enough defensive front to win consistently in this area.
What this game did was force the defense to confront a major weakness, one that could affect their playoff chances down the stretch. In general, the Steelers have had weaknesses in the trenches on both sides of the ball, yet the offense has made great strides in improving this aspect. For Keith Butler and the rest of the defensive coaching staff, there is still time to make this better. If the team has any playoff aspirations, it starts with addressing this aspect and finding solutions to make it better.