Steelers' No. 1 Problem Makes Others Pale in Comparison

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

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Mike Tomlin didn’t have much of consequence to say, either in the immediate aftermath or a couple of days later, other than a well-intended vow to get to the bottom of Jaguars 45, Steelers 42, no matter how long it took.

“It’s important that we turn the stones over and gather information and really assess,” the Steelers head coach maintained on Tuesday afternoon.

“You do not want to be in a hurry to end it even though it can be uncomfortable and painful and so forth,” Tomlin added.

For the Steelers, the abrupt end to their season shy of the AFC Championship Game let alone short of the Super Bowl can’t be anything else.

But they need not over-think what went wrong.

The defense is the problem.

That was becoming apparent before the Jaguars found the end zone on half of their 10 possessions that didn’t end when a half did last Sunday.

By now it should be obvious.

The defense is the problem.

The season started trending in that disturbing direction when Ryan Shazier went down and stayed down on Dec. 4 in Cincinnati.

From that moment on, the Steelers became dangerously susceptible against the run, in either their base defense or in a defensive backs-heavy sub-package.

They worked around that complication for a while the only way they could, through sacks and interceptions, the type of splash plays that can allow a defense to compensate for yards surrendered.

But the Steelers ended up with zero turnovers generated and zero sacks amassed against Jacksonville.

And you saw what happened.

Everybody did.

The longer the Steelers played without the centerpiece of their defense, the worse their defense became and the more points they hemorrhaged.

And in the end the defensive line wasn’t what they thought it was, what they needed it to be.

Neither was the secondary.

Neither was outside linebacker.

Neither was inside linebacker, where, with Tyler Matakevich also injured, the Steelers had to sign Sean Spence off the street and also play Vince Williams and L.J. Fort on meaningful snaps they otherwise wouldn’t have.

In the end that wasn’t a problem, it was a fatal flaw.

The defense they’ve been painstakingly rebuilding for years suddenly has a gaping hole where Shazier used to be.

That’s the critical issue confronting the Steelers entering the offseason.

It’s the reason they’re much less of a contender now than they had every right to consider themselves as at this time a year ago.

And until that gets fixed, their other perceived issues pale in comparison.

That includes who the offensive coordinator is and whether or not Ben Roethlisberger likes/respects him, whether or not they have a QB sneak in the playbook, and whether or not the head coach, the free safety or the running back dare to publicly reference the Patriots in advance of a game against the Packers or the Jaguars.

The defense is the problem.

Until they solve it, the Steelers are more of a Fantasy League team than they are a Super Bowl team.

That’s a stone that ought to be relatively easy to identify if it hasn’t been already.

Turning it over will require as much heavy lifting as the Steelers can muster.
 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section