With all the talk this week about the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense, we paid little attention to the team's defense. Personally, I regret doing so.
Naturally, after Week 1, we had little to no worries about this unit as they performed at a high level; yes, at a high level when TJ Watt was there.
The reality now is that since his departure, this defense seems reminiscent of what it was during those dark years between 2014 and 2016; unable to generate turnovers while being dominated at the line of scrimmage. As provided by football analyst extraordinaire, Warren Sharp, this unit has allowed 295 yards rushing, +0.15 EPA/att, and a 61% success rate in two games without him. Not good!
As much as we knew that this defensive unit was going to regress without him, I am certain that no one predicted that it would get to the point where they would forget how to pressure the quarterback consistently, stop the run, and generate turnovers.
Their performance defensively against the Cleveland Browns was shaky in the first half but manageable. The second half, however, was an epic collapse at all levels. It was bad from the very beginning of the second half. Understandably, the Browns have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but they beat the Steelers' defensive line at the line of scrimmage to near-submission. Browns running back Nick Chubb seemingly got whatever he wanted, and demoralized the defense.
In general, their poor play became contagious, as the offensive unit became inefficient. All these things became a recipe for an embarrassing loss, the type of loss that should compel this team to look introspectively and figure out who they really are.
In the defense's defense, their collapse is, in reality, the residual effects of carrying the weight of poor offensive play for so long.
When you have an offensive unit that is incapable of consistently sustaining reasonable drives, it adds up. We saw that in Week 1, where the injuries began to accumulate due to spending too much time on the field. Coming into this game, the defense had played 76 minutes on the field; by late in the fourth quarter, they had already played 30 minutes. It all adds up.
Even if Watt returns, this Steelers team is in dire need of balance on both sides of the ball. Mike Tomlin is going to have his work cut out for this season in trying to find a way to give this defensive unit some reprieve while helping the offensive unit with efficiency and consistency. This is likely to be a process that should test the loyalty of the Steelers' fanbase. Hopefully, it will result in greater things ahead.