The defending AFC North champions came up short at Minnesota. And defending has become a big issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was nearly the greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Minnesota Vikings, 29-0, and wound up on the short end of a 36-28 score. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass to Pat Freiermuth in the end zone. But Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith made sure the rookie tight end didn’t hold on.
What a difference a year makes, which has been somewhat of a theme for many of the teams that reached the playoffs in 2020. And it’s the defense that has disappointed more often than not, especially as of late.
Pittsburgh Steelers struggling defensively in 2021
A season ago, Mike Tomlin’s squad was the only team in the league not to allow at least 30 points in a regular-season contest. But in the wild card playoffs, they fell at home to the Browns, 48-37.
This year, there was a similar start as the Steelers once again “limited” each of their first 10 foes below 30 points. But the Black and Gold gave up 41 points in consecutive losses to the Chargers and Bengals. And Thursday night’s eight-point setback at Minnesota means the club has surrendered a disappointing 137 points in their last four contests.
The biggest issue seems to be the club’s inability to stop the run, which is almost unheard of in the Steel City. But this trend began near the midway point of 2020. Last season, Keith Butler’s defensive unit held five of its first six foes to fewer than 100 yards rushing. However, the Steelers’ defense has allowed a team to reach the century mark on the ground in 19 of their last 24 contests, including the 2020 postseason loss to Cleveland.
On Thursday night at Minnesota, Pittsburgh allowed a season-high 242 yards rushing – 205 to running back Dalvin Cook. In their last five games, Tomlin’s club has allowed opponents to run for a combined 935 yards – a distressing 187.0 per game.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger has arguably played his best football of the season during the club’s current 1-3 stretch. He’s had his ups and downs and been far from perfect. But there have been three times as many touchdown passes (9) as interceptions (3).
In Week 11 at Los Angeles, he rallied the club from a 27-10 third-quarter deficit to take a 37-34 lead with 3:24 to play. And last night’s near-miss saw the veteran signal-caller throw for 308 yards and three scores (1 interception) in the prime time loss.
The Steelers’ defense has been pushed around too often in recent weeks. A year ago, the team allowed the third-fewest total yards and passing yards in the league. But the slide, especially against the run, started slow and has unfortunately gained a lot of momentum. Tomlin and Butler have an awful lot of work to do. And that’s because Pittsburgh defensive unit has become simply awful.