NFL Wire News

Steelers believe progress happening on defense


The Sports Xchange

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers were encouraged by their better defensive play in a 43-18 victory against San Francisco and hope to carry that over into Sunday’s game at St. Louis.

With five sacks Sunday, Pittsburgh disrupted the 49ers passing game and their run defense held the NFL’s leading rusher, Carlos Hyde, to just 43 yards.

Now they go against a St. Louis team that is 27th rushing in the NFL with an average of 71.5 per game and 22nd passing with an average of 211. St. Louis quarterback Nick Foles has not thrown an interception but he also has completed just 59.3 percent of his passes.

“I liked the general energy of the defense,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “I thought they played hard. We still have a ways to go in terms of communication and some detail or assignment oriented-like things.”

Their front seven has been the bright spot on a defense that is not strong in the secondary. Ryan Shazier has been a force at inside linebacker and leads the team with 22 tackles to go with a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

They continue to rotate four outside linebackers with Arthur Moats starting on the left and sharing series with rookie Bud Dupree, who is tied with James Harrison for the team lead with two sacks. Harrison rotates with starter Jarvis Jones on the right.

Ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have been disruptive up front in coordinator Keith Butler’s new defensive style that allows the linemen to play one gap instead of two and make more plays than in the past.

“They won some individual battles and that’s an important element of the game no matter where you play,” Tomlin said. “Stephon Tuitt was able to win a one-on-one early to get a sack, and Cameron Heyward was able to do the same. When you win one-on-ones and produce, you will have a good day. They won one-on-ones, and I think that set a tone for themselves and the group.”

They finally created their first turnover Sunday, a fumble forced and recovered by Shazier, but that area of their game remains a shortcoming. However, they had five sacks in the second game and believe they can put more pressure on the quarterback this season.

“Whenever they get after the quarterback, everything’s easier,” said linebacker James Harrison. “It doesn’t matter who’s doing it, it’s easier for coverage situations, running situations.”

–Wide receiver Martavis Bryant has been working with drug/alcohol counselor John Lucas in Houston while he serves his four-game NFL suspension for multiple positive tests for using marijuana. Bryant, who also is working out physically in Houston, will miss two more games in his second NFL season.

“Getting him work in all areas is important,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Rest assured we are doing what is appropriate under the circumstance. That’s really all I am going to say on it.”

–The Steelers’ defense has no interceptions after two games. They had only 11 last season and put an emphasis on changing that through the spring and preseason. However, after a 25-year low of just 33 sacks last season, they have seven through two games, or a pace of 56.

“You have to go out there and do it game in and game out,” said linebacker James Harrison, tied with rookie linebacker Bud Dupree for the team lead with two sacks.

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