Steelers defense looking to bounce back
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Like any defensive coordinator worth his gameplan, Keith Butler knew what was coming.
So when the man in charge of getting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the right spots approached reporters on Thursday for his weekly chat, Butler decided to blitz.
“The run defense sucked,” Butler drawled.
Kinda. Well, maybe more than kinda. After keeping opponents in check during a 2-0 start, the Steelers melted in the 90-degree heat at Soldier Field last weekend, allowing 220 yards on the ground in a stunning 23-17 overtime loss to Chicago.
The final 74 came on the lone possession of the extra period, as the Bears needed just four snaps to sap all of Pittsburgh’s early season momentum.
Chicago didn’t run some sort of complicated blocking scheme.
Instead they just ran the same basic plays over and over, pitching it to Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen and letting the offensive line and their two talented backs do the rest while the Steelers kept bouncing off. That’s if the Steelers managed to get a handle on the Bears at all.
“It’s demoralizing,” Bud Dupree said. “It hurts us a whole, our pride. That’s the main thing it does, take your pride.”
It also served as a “back to reality” moment for a group that allowed just 148 yards on the ground through the first two games combined.
Defensive end Cam Heyward snarled “91 yards is too much” while keeping Minnesota rookie Dalvin Cook largely in check during a Week 2 victory over the Vikings.
The Steelers gave up more than double that against the Bears, allowing Chicago to win on a day Bears quarterback Mike Glennon threw for just 101 yards.
Then again, the way Howard and Cohen were gashing Pittsburgh’s front seven, there really was no need for Glennon to chuck it any more than he had to.
“We got to learn from those mistakes, simple as that,” Heyward said. “We’re going to get challenged with the same stuff again this week. You never want to give up 100 yards and you never want to give up 200 yards. So now we got to answer for it and we look forward to doing that.”
Good thing, because Baltimore (2-1) figures to throw more of the same on Sunday. The Ravens have gone over 130 yards rushing in each of their first three games, including a lopsided blowout loss to Jacksonville last week in London.
While the Bears use two backs, the Ravens rotate between three, with Terrance West, Javorius Allen and Alex Collins all averaging at least eight carries.
The Steelers hope the return of defensive end Stephon Tuitt and linebacker T.J. Watt — both of whom were on the sideline in Chicago in shorts because of injuries — will help. Tuitt and Watt practiced on Thursday and are expected to play.
It will take more than Tuitt and Watt to fix the mistakes that kept popping up against Chicago, when Pittsburgh either over-pursued, took poor angles or giving into the lure of a highlight-reel hit when the situation called for a more pragmatic approach.
“Instead of, during the game, thinking ‘I’ve got to go kill-shot somebody,’ you got to say, ‘Hey, you can kill-shot somebody and wrap up at the same time’ instead of going after someone with a full head of steam with nothing but shoulders and head because you think you’re going to knock them down,” Dupree said.
The examples were too numerous to count. Dupree tried to drill Howard for a loss, didn’t get Howard to the ground and Howard squirted loose for a first down.
On the winning touchdown, middle linebacker Ryan Shazier also lost containment several times and over pursued on Howard’s game-winning 19-yard touchdown run, diving at Howard’s feet in vain as Howard sprinted to the end zone.
Even as the Steelers kept getting pushed around, linebacker James Harrison remained on the sideline. He only saw the field for a handful of snaps despite being one of the better run-stopping outside linebackers in the league during his lengthy career.
Coach Mike Tomlin declined to get into specifics when asked why Harrison was again a minimal part of the plan.
“I’m not singling out any position, and I think a discussion about his participation or non-participation does that,” Tomlin said. “I don’t want to lead perception in any wild directions. Perception has been led in enough wild directions in recent days, hasn’t it?”
Tomlin was talking about the controversy surrounding his team’s decision to remain in the tunnel during the national anthem in Chicago.
That chaos has died down a bit. Now it’s back to more basic concerns, namely proving that the struggles in Chicago — and not the solid performances in Weeks 1 and 2 — is the anomaly.
“We’re gonna change things up too,” Butler said. “We’re not going to set up in the same thing that got us beat.”
NOTES: RB Le’Veon Bell returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday while tending to a personal matter. … WR Martavis Bryant (illness) and G Ramon Foster (thumb) did not practice. … Dupree (shoulder) and TE Jesse James (shoulder) were limited.