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Steelers

Mark Madden: Steelers 'D' too putrid to let offense bail team out

| Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, 8:18 p.m.
The Chiefs' Kareem Hunt shakes the Steelers' Terrell Edmunds for a touchdown Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Chiefs' Kareem Hunt shakes the Steelers' Terrell Edmunds for a touchdown Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 at Heinz Field.

Whenever the topic of Antonio Brown and whatever negative impact his shenanigans have on the Pittsburgh Steelers comes up, it’s often dismissed by saying, “He doesn’t play defense.”

That triggers discussion and dissection of the defense.

Legitimate nausea soon sinks in.

Brown is selfish and frustrating. Thursday’s meet with the media was amazing. He admitted no wrongdoing, contradicted himself constantly and berated the media with (in so many words) cries of “fake news!”

If Brown keeps that up, he might be President someday.

But Brown can play. (Just not as well as JuJu Smith-Schuster right now.) Brown will top 100 catches. (Unless, at 30, he can’t get open like he used to.)

The Steelers defense can’t play. It has potential to be ruinous. Its problems are many, and they are great.

The Steelers missed 17 tackles in last Sunday’s home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s mind-boggling. That’s a failing grade in Football 101. If that doesn’t resolve itself organically, it won’t resolve itself. NFL teams barely wear pads in practice anymore, let alone work on tackling. Tackling can’t be fine-tuned.

The defense doesn’t have many (any) strengths. A 3-4 base relies on solid linebackers. That’s been a Steelers strength since adopting the 3-4.

It’s far from being a strong point now.

Vince Williams is average (or worse) now that he’s not partnered inside with Ryan Shazier. T.J. Watt has potential but needs consistency. If Bud Dupree isn’t yet a bust, he’s staking his claim.

The linebackers are bad. That’s a big reason the defense is bad.

Perhaps if the Steelers had drafted more backup quarterbacks …

Here’s another damning stat: The Steelers defensed just one pass against Kansas City. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes threw 28 balls. Only one was touched in effective fashion by a Steelers defender, that being defensive end Stephon Tuitt. The defensive backs didn’t get a single touch. Not one.

Morgan Burnett has alternated between hurt and disappointing. The young defensive backs just don’t get better. A past-his-peak Joe Haden is the Steelers’ best DB. That says a lot about Haden — and them.

You hear whispers about the Steelers defense.

You hear that some of the packages are too complicated and that there are too many packages.

There was evidence of that against Kansas City, when defensive coordinator Keith Butler had trouble getting players on and off the field. That seemed to be confirmed by Haden, who said the Steelers would be simplifying their defense Monday at Tampa Bay.

The Steelers tried multiple looks in an attempt to confuse Mahomes in his third career start. They ended up confusing themselves.

You hear that coach Mike Tomlin has usurped many of the defensive calls from Butler. Not a good look for Butler, if true. But Tomlin has every right and is known for his defensive acumen besides.

Anything is worth trying.

When it was thought the Steelers would have the holy trinity of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Brown, it also was assumed the offense would be better than the defense would be bad.

But Bell has yet to show up and might not. Brown is a candidate for psychoanalysis, not All-Pro. So, Brown says his absence from meetings was excused, but he still got disciplined. Uh … what?

Put this stat up there with 17 tackles missed and one pass defensed when it comes to disturbing numbers from the Steelers’ loss to Kansas City: Since 1940, NFL teams scoring 37 or more points and committing zero turnovers are 653-2. The Steelers’ defeat Sunday was the second time that happened.

That tells you that no matter how many points the offense scores or how efficiently it plays, the defense too often won’t let it be good enough.

Monday’s game at Tampa Bay is must-win for the Steelers. If they don’t, their season easily could implode. The Buccaneers lead the NFL in total yardage and passing yardage. They are second in points scored.

Uh-oh.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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