One of the terms that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has popularized in recent years is “popcorn”, a word that he uses to describe a series of small, non-systemic issues that create a larger one. Well, the kernels are in the pan for the defense, and the stove is on. Things are a-poppin’, and in the wrong ways.
That’s not to say that it’s been all bad, by any means. After all, that’s the point of ‘popcorn’ issues. But the more you have, the harder it is to keep everything in the pan, so to speak. That’s what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s task is heading into Sunday and going forward.
“We’re trying to educate our guys on how everything ties together, how we all have to work together to be a really, really good defense”, he told reporters yesterday, via transcript. “It’s not that there’s giant, glaring mistakes, but there’s a mistake here, a mistake there, and it’s not just one group or one person, but at particular times, when you make those mistakes, they hurt you”.
It’s a missed tackle here, a bite on a double move there. Overshoot a gap and it’s a big play. It can be things that you’ll get right 99 times out of 100, but if the opposing offense takes advantage of the one time you don’t, that’s the only one that counts.
“That’s what we’re really concentrating on, is trying to cut down on the amount of mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are just a wrong line, all kinds of different things”, Austin said. “Mike likes to refer to it as popcorn. It’s not like you can just say, ‘Okay, hey, if we fix this, we’re good’. We’ve just got to make sure we’re cutting down on the amount of small errors because they lead to big problems”.
Oh, and by the way, nobody ever said that ‘popcorn’ issues are better than having larger, systemic issues. Systemic issues are more significant, but more easy to address. There’s little you can do to combat these cumulative minor errors beyond simply trying to coach as well as you can individually and as an entire unit.
Because the idea is you don’t know when and where they’re going to pop up. Every team in every game has some popcorn here and there, but you need to keep it in the pan enough to win the game. The Steelers haven’t been doing that, either on offense or defense.
But the defensive issues have certainly been more disappointing. It was expected offensively given the turnover, but the defense was supposed to be elite. Head coach Mike Tomlin said it himself. They showed elite potential in the opener, but not since then. Can T.J. Watt bring them back to where they need to be to match a rising offense?