Dreadful Steelers defense ‘unacceptable’ in loss to Chiefs
In what was a quiet and somber Heinz Field locker room, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive player who has been in the NFL the longest put his arm around the team’s defensive contributor who has been around the least.
Cornerback Joe Haden was one part offering words of encouragement, one part discussing technique and one part offering tips on improving communication with teammates in his chat with rookie safety Terrell Edmunds.
In a nutshell, that short conversation touched on everything that contributed to what went wrong in the Steelers defense’s dreadful showing during a 42-37 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
• The absence of Haden, the team’s best cornerback, hurt against what is one of the NFL’s best passing offenses
• Apparent communication issues couldn’t have helped, either, against a team that likes to move quickly
• The secondary allowed more touchdown passes (six) than incompletions (five); no defensive back recorded a statistical pass-defense, let alone an interception
“To keep asking that out of our offense, every single time to go the length of the field, is unacceptable,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “And I just look forward to fixing that.”
The outcomes say the Steelers (0-1-1) are winless through two games this season; the lack of defensive production says the team has allowed an average of 38 points in the four meaningful home games it has played since the December 2017 spinal injury to linebacker Ryan Shazier.
On Sunday, the Steelers allowed touchdown drives on each of the first three drives of each half. It allowed a quarterback who was making his third career start, Patrick Mahomes, to carry a perfect passer rating throughout most of the afternoon. (He would finish with an almost-perfect 154.8 after going 23 for 28 for 326 yards).
“I don’t want to give him too much credit, when we don’t play well,” safety Sean Davis said. “I’m not gonna hate on him; just I can’t really give an honest assessment (of Mahomes) when we didn’t play (our best) against him.”
The only plays the defense made were in the fourth quarter: a safety on a Kansas City run from its own 1 and a forced fumble by the front seven (forced by end Heyward and recovered by linebacker Anthony Chickillo) on a short pass.
“(Mahomes) is a good player,” Edmunds said, “but we just didn’t make the plays we were supposed to make.”
While Cameron Sutton started in place of Haden at left cornerback, he was replaced in that role by Coty Sensabaugh before the end of a first quarter. On at least one of the plays Sutton was beaten, though, the mistake was as much mental as it was physical.
It wasn’t the only apparent mental gaffe from the secondary. Multiple times, players were sprinting onto the field and just getting into position as the ball was being snapped. Other times, a 12 th man was running off the field just in time to avoid a flag.
Part of the confusion could be attributed to the abundance of new packages the Steelers are trying to assimilate into their defensive scheme. Mahomes said the Chiefs were aware the Steelers were showing lots of looks.
“We’ve just got to make more plays, and we’ve got to play better,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “That’s really it.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or
via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.