By Daniel Benjamin
The Steelers defense has ranged from very good to superb through the first 11 weeks of the season. Just two of the Steelers’ 10 opponents have scored 20 or more points. Jacksonville put up 30 points on Pittsburgh in Week 5, though the Jaguars defense was responsible for two of the Jags’ touchdowns, so technically speaking, the Steelers defense surrendered 16 points. The Chicago Bears are the other team team to top the 20-point plateau when they scored 23 points. The Bears offense scored three touchdowns, but the final score came in overtime.
The Steelers rank second in scoring defense, giving up 16.5 points a game, and fourth in total defense. They are third against the pass and eighth against the run. The Steelers are also second with 34 sacks and 10th in forced turnovers at 1.6 a contest.
However, the defense has been better the past two weeks. After giving up a season-high 482 yards to Detroit prior to their bye week, the Steelers have limited their last two opponents to 291.5 yards and 17.0 points a game. They have also recorded seven sacks and forced five turnovers—all interceptions—during this stretch.
But the Steelers believe they can do more.
“We made a lot of good plays, but we missed some tackles that we normally make,” said cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.“I know as far as the secondary, we can sharpen up our coverage in some areas. Get closer to some guys. We just have to keep working every game. This process we are going through is a never ending process of getting better. Until we reach our goal at the end of the season, Lord willing, we are going to get better every day.”
The defense will have a pretty good chance to increase their sack and turnover totals versus Green Bay. The Packers have turned the ball over 14 times, and 10 of those have been the result of an interception, with Brett Hundley throwing seven of the picks. The Packers offensive line has permitted 36 sacks.
Cam Sutton activated
Third round 2017 draft pick Cam Sutton was added to the team’s 53-man roster on Tuesday after impressing coach Mike Tomlin at practice. The Steelers had a 21-day evaluation window to decide whether to activate him or to leave him on injured reserve.
“I like what I’ve seen from him,” said Tomlin. “The first component of it is his health, and his health seems to be above the line. The second component is his ability to stay wired in and learn and stay up with things while he hasn’t been a physical participant. And he has proven he’s been on the screws in that area as well. His above-the-neck game has been acceptable. We have an option or two there, which are good things for him and for us.”
Sutton missed most of OTAs and training camp with a hamstring issue. He then re-aggravated the injury during the preseason finale.
It is unknown what role Sutton will have in the coming weeks. The 22-year-old cornerback is currently sixth on the depth chart with Joe Haden out with a fractured fibula for at least another week. That means that Coty Sensabaugh,who had one interception and a pass defensed along with three tackles last week, will likely start opposite of Artie Burns—the team’s newly appointed No. 1 cornerback—once again. First-year defensive back Mike Hilton has been fabulous as the team’s nickleback and William Gay will continue to provide depth. Rookie Brian Allen also has seen action.
Despite activating Sutton, the Steelers did not have to make a corresponding move due to right tackle Marcus Gilbert’s NFL imposed four-game suspension as a result of PED violation. Gilbert will be eligible to return for the Steelers’ final two games against Houston (away) and Cleveland (home).
While Haden is already out, there are a few other injury situations to monitor as the Steelers get back on the practice field on Wednesday. Safety Mike Mitchell, tight end Vance McDonald and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are players currently dealing with physical issues.
Both Mitchell and McDonald were inactive for Thursday’s night game against Tennessee with ankle injuries after being listed as questionable on the team’s final injury report.
In the meantime, Smith-Schuster is dealing with a minor hamstring injury that will affect the rookie receiver’s time on the practice field early this week, according to Tomlin. Although Tomlin added that Smith-Schuster is expected to play against Green Bay.
The former USC Trojan had four receptions for 47 yards against the Titans, marking his fewest catches over the last three weeks. For the season, Smith-Schuster has 33 catches for 568 yards and five touchdowns.