Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Another Steelers player commenting about the lack of communication on defense during a game. The latest comes from cornerback Joe Haden on Thursday when he met the media at the Steelers’ complex. Haden said the team spent part of this week watching tape of the playoff loss to Jacksonville , trying to figure out what went wrong. He was quoted as saying “communication and discipline were the issues, not talent.” Think about that for a second. Communication was to blame for getting blown out in a playoff game. So what Haden is trying to tell us is that after training camp, four preseason games, and 16 regular season games this team still struggled to get on the same page?
This has been a major concern for Keith Butler’s defense from game one. Think back to the first game he coached against New England in 2015. Blown coverages and communication issues marred that game in a 28-21 loss. Fast forward to the final game of last season, and we see nothing much has changed. Sure we can make excuses for why these issues popped up. Yes, the team missed their signal caller in Ryan Shazier. Sure having Shazier would have made a difference, or would it have? Let’s not forget the Jaguars seemed to run the ball at will the other time these two teams met in 2017. That also resulted in a humiliating loss in front of the home crowd. Again the excuse of “communication” was used, this time for why linebackers and the defensive line confused gaps allowing big runs.
Excuses have become a common theme with this Butler/Tomlin led defense. Two years ago it was the team needed to improve the secondary…..enter Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Last season it was they needed “football first” players…..enter TJ Watt and Cam Sutton. This offseason, its “we need smarter players, better communicators” …….. enter Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett. When exactly is it time to start holding the coaches responsible for the failings of the defense? After all, you have to think this team had enough talent to hold a bad Jaguars offense to say, oh I don’t know …..under 30 points? Maybe? Let’s remember that the Buffalo Bills held the Jags to ten points the game before, in Jacksonville no less.
At the end of the day, until this defensive coaching staff is addressed that side of the ball simply will not improve. Perhaps this process has begun with the hiring of a new defensive backs coach in Tom Bradley. There’s only so many moves Kevin Colbert can make before he must look at the top of the pyramid. Another playoff meltdown by the defense should at least cost Keith Butler his job. With all the high draft picks and free agent signings allocated to this defense it’s now or never for Butler, and maybe Tomlin too.