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Steelers defense makes splash against Titans

September 18, 2018

Steelers safety Marcus Allen elevates for an interception against the Titans Saturday Aug. 25, 2018 at Heinz Field.

In neither instance were the stakes too high, and no definitive conclusions should be drawn.

But, my oh my, did the Pittsburgh Steelers defense emerge from their most recent preseason game feeling far better about themselves than they did following the prior week’s outing.

“Last week, we took a bad ‘L,’ ” rookie safety Terrell Edmunds said after the Steelers’ 16-6 win against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday. “We don’t want to take any L’s, even if it is preseason. It’s a big practice. It’s a big, open practice you could say, so we are glad that we got the win.”

Not only did the Steelers get a win, they did do with their defense -- particularly the starters -- issuing what could be called a dominant performance. The Titans managed just 210 yards, including 51 in six drives against the Steelers first-team defense, which played the first half and one third-quarter series.

After four first downs on its first drive, Tennessee had six consecutive three-and-outs before it scored in the fourth quarter against the Steelers’ backups.

Contrast that to last week’s 51-34 loss at Green Bay on Aug. 16 in which the Packers scored on their first four possessions and six of the first eight times they had the ball.

“We can still be a whole lot better, but at the same time, I think we are coming along very well,” cornerback Joe Haden said. ”(Saturday) was a good stand for us to be able to have as many defensive players out there and play pretty well.

“I think it’s just the standard. This is something that we want to continue to do, and as long as we get more and more reps and everybody is healthy going into the season, we should be fine.”

The Steelers benefited from the presence of Haden, who made his preseason debut. Cameron Heyward also sat out the Green Bay game, meaning the two defensive starters who have the most NFL experience on the unit made part of the difference Saturday.

Still out were slot cornerback Mike Hilton and outside linebacker T.J. Watt, adding more reason for optimism that the defense could be firing on all cylinders in time for the regular season opener Sept. 9.

Then again, the Marcus Mariota-led Titans offense won’t ever be mistaken for the Packers’ unit led by future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, who made his lone preseason appearance against the Steelers.

As silly as it was to overreact to a single poor outing, it’s just as folly to become too enamored with a solitary solid effort.

“It’s just one outing,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ll continue to grow and put tape out there, and what that tapes says we are, we are. We’ll let the tape do the talking.”

Adding to the defensive effort were a number of splash plays: six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two interceptions.

Among those who impressed:

• End Stephon Tuitt had a sack and two quarterback hits in just 21 snaps (12 were pass-rushing snaps, according to Pro Football Focus);

• Edmunds had an interception with a nifty 30-yard return and four tackles;

• Lavon Hooks, fighting for a job as the final defensive lineman, had two tackles for loss and a sack;

• Matthew Thomas had a game-high seven tackles, including one on special teams, and was used in a variety of roles while playing in each quarter.

“We are just trying to get after it,” Haden said. “We are just trying to make plays. As long as our communication and stuff is right, we have the talent. So, it’s just everybody being in the right positions. And I think we did a good job (Saturday).”

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