Steelers defense earns a poor grade vs Browns without T.J. Watt

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 22: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Cleveland Browns rushes ahead of DeMarvin Leal #98 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 22, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 22: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Cleveland Browns rushes ahead of DeMarvin Leal #98 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 22, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Steelers defense did not have their best performance in week three against the Browns, which cost the club.

The offense is not the strong point of the Steelers roster right now. The defensive unit for this team has been consistently called on during games and has logged a lot of minutes because of their counterparts’ poor performances. That added time on the field could be taking a toll on these defensive players.

Excuses are for the weak in the NFL, and no team will consider it when they line up to win a game against you. Either you sink or swim, and this team is currently diving into a deep trench. This group played alright, but they had some issues against a Browns club that does not resemble a powerhouse.

Lacking against the run was a big issue for the defensive line

A quick start to the season showed some promising results for the defensive line after having one of the worst run defenses in the league last year. They were doing decent in that category until this week when they went up against a two-headed monster in Cleveland. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were able to follow the command of their offensive line and dictate the game.

Grade: D-

The Steelers need to figure out how to defend against the run fast, or it will be a repeat of last year. Perhaps the recent promotion of Montravius Adams will light a spark, but this group needs to get things together. Pittsburgh’s defense is already lacking a pass rush, they cannot afford to allow opposing offenses a chance to run the ball.

Alex Highsmith remains the only player able to apply pressure without Watt

Getting after the passer is one of the biggest jobs that an edge rusher has in the NFL. T.J. Watt continues to miss time with injury and his relievers have not been able to do much of anything. Alex Highsmith is the only one showing some ability to hold his own while Watt is away. That effort is far from enough for this team to be successful.

Grade: C-

Things have been getting ugly for the black and gold with their outside linebacker spot since Watt’s injury occurred. Highsmith is the only reason that this unit got the grade that they did because it was not pretty. Malik Reed seems like a wasted trade right now, even if he did not cost anything to acquire.

Linebacker in the middle of the Steelers defense continues to be a conundrum

Here is a spot that seemed to play well against the Browns this past Thursday. This is not to say that their efforts were perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Both Myles Jack and Devin Bush were able to post some solid numbers on the board that was backed up by some decent play.

Grade: B-

Having this group not being the issue that persists could become an intriguing wrinkle to watch this season. Both have been brought into question, but Jack continues to impress by being a reliable backer. Bush has been getting better since his terrible pre-season, and that will hopefully continue going forward.

Every cornerback struggled at different points during this game

The secondary played poorly, but cornerback was the biggest concern during the game. Ahkello Witherspoon had his worst game of the season, but his fellow corners only aided the issues. They made life easy on the opposing offense and that allowed for their backup quarterback to get comfortable enough to win this game.

Grade: D

Nothing was going right for these corners in this game and that could lead to them having a shakeup eventually among their starters. Witherspoon is nursing a hamstring injury, so it is possible that someone gets elevated into a starting role this week if he is out. One game cannot define them, but Witherspoon is coming off back-to-back performances that he would probably like back.

Safety was a constant positive contributor before playing Cleveland

Minkah Fitzpatrick played well as he normally does, but his safety partner was the one that struggled. Terrell Edmunds has been consistently good at his job for a while now except for this week. David Njoku made him look small and inept in his efforts to defend the big athletic tight end.

Grade: C-

Fitzpatrick is still a game changer, but he could potentially miss time with a concussion. Edmunds will need to bounce back after that performance which he has shown the ability to do in the past. Players have bad games, but this duo needs to be a consistent force for this defense going forward.

Steelers defense overall grade: C-

Grading the defense has been a challenge, especially with all the different elements that are working against them. This is not the Steel Curtain, but they have a respectable group that can make plays with Watt in the lineup. His absence has been a monumental gap to try and fill while he is away.

The Steelers offense has been so poor that it is leading to a giant gap in their playing differentials during the game. This defense has been overplayed and that will cause them to falter due to exhaustion alone. Pittsburgh’s defense is better than what they displayed on Thursday and should be able to rally during the game against the New York Jets.

Related Story. Grading the Steelers stagnant offense vs Browns in Week 3 loss. light

Pittsburgh had a bad night against the Browns but remained in the game somehow. The defense is not the biggest issue for this club right now, but they are having some issues that are leading to bad results