Steelers Defense Comes Up Big in Week 13 but Needs to Be More Consistent

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 9, 2015

Pittsburgh's defense was dominant in Week 13. Now they just have to keep it up in Weeks 14 and beyond.
Pittsburgh's defense was dominant in Week 13. Now they just have to keep it up in Weeks 14 and beyond.Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have had their best defensive performance of the season against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 13. 

Cornerback Brandon Boykin and linebacker Jarvis Jones each picked off Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck once. The defense sacked Hasselbeck twice, and his replacement Charlie Whitehurst, three times. Linebacker Vince Williams recovered a fumble, and the defense as a whole amassed five tackles for a loss, seven passes defended and seven quarterback hits in the 45-10 win.

The only problem is that the performance is something we've not seen enough of on a consistent basis this year.

This was just the third time this season that the Steelers have held a team to under 200 passing yards, and the first time they have done so since Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. In fact, the Steelers gave up over 300 passing yards per game in the three contests preceding their matchup with the Colts. 

Pittsburgh's Big Day vs. Colts Offense
StatValue
Yds. Allow240
Pass Yds. Allow186
Rush Yds. Allow54
Pts. Allow10
Sacks3
INTs2
FF1
FR1
TFL5
PD7
QB Hits7
via ESPN

While those large numbers of yards surrendered have not translated to points for their opponents for the most part, with the Steelers defense tied for the seventh-least allowed, two of the Steelers' last four opponents—the Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks—have gone over 30. 

The run defense has been up-and-down as well. Though it ranks sixth in average yards allowed, at 90.3, 100-plus-yard rushing days can happen against them for unknown reasons at a moment's notice.

There are inconsistencies in Pittsburgh's defense that must be ironed out for this team to get itself back into a fifth or sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture, especially with the Cincinnati Bengals offense looming on Sunday.

The defensive inconsistencies are a result of the players putting forth inconsistent efforts. From the secondary giving up 18 of the team's 23 passing touchdowns allowed (10 by cornerbacks, seven by safeties, according to Pro Football Focus) to the 39 passing plays that have gone 20 or more yards (and the nine that have gone 40-plus), Pittsburgh's willingness to give up significant yardage is worrisome.

Pittsburgh's struggles in the secondary have been led by cornerback Antwon Blake, who is finally seeing his playing time decrease.
Pittsburgh's struggles in the secondary have been led by cornerback Antwon Blake, who is finally seeing his playing time decrease.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It would be less concerning if the team's pass rush was more reliable. Yes, the Steelers now have 35 sacks on the season thanks to Sunday's performance, which ties them for third in the league. But these are often coming on multisack games that are preceded and followed by a drought. Eleven of Pittsburgh's 35 sacks came on just two games, for example.

There have also been struggles with tackling. Pro Football Focus already has the Steelers defense at 124 missed tackles on the season. Through 16 games last year, the defense missed just 107 tackles. And unsurprisingly, most of those missed tackles have occurred in the secondary, with cornerback Antwon Blake recording 23 so far this year. It's no wonder Blake is slowly losing snaps to Boykin.

We know that the Steelers defense is capable of playing like one of the best in the league. We saw it against the Colts in Week 13, and we've seen it before then as well. But now the goal must be to repeat that Week 13 performance over the course of the rest of the season. We've seen its opposite far too often.

Pittsburgh should be prioritizing consistency at this point in the year, especially if the Super Bowl is the goal. The defense cannot disappear and reappear and hope that a string of wins will be the result.

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