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Defense answers Tomlin's challenge

Posted Oct 30, 2017

Lions repeatedly denied in red zone, at goal line.

DETROIT _ The red zone offense had been a subject of much consternation and debate prior to the Steelers’ return to Ford Field, but that didn’t mean the red zone defense had been passing muster.

It had not.

“We got called out,” safety Sean Davis admitted.

Head coach Mike Tomlin had let the defense know that 10 touchdowns allowed in 16 opponents’ red zone possessions through seven games wasn’t cutting it.

The defense let Tomlin know during Sunday night’s 20-15 victory over the Lions that the message had been received.

“I felt like we did a good job of responding,” Davis assessed.

The response of the defense was to hold the Lions to zero touchdowns in five red zone possessions.

Three times Detroit settled for three points.

Twice the Lions turned the ball over on downs, including once in the third quarter after they’d achieved a second-and-goal from the Steelers’ 1-yard line.

“Coach challenged us this week,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We had been giving it up in the red zone a little bit, especially our goal line (defense).

“We got that stopped and didn’t look back.”

The Lions tried five runs in the Steelers’ red zone and gained 4 yards. Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed two of 11 passes in the red zone for 6 yards and was sacked once.

How’d that happen?

The Steelers had their theories.

Heyward: “Technique, knowing what you gotta do, penetration and just heart.”

Linebacker Ryan Shazier: “Communication and our guy beating their guy. I feel like everybody just did their job the way we needed to.”

Linebacker T.J. Watt: “Just kinda having some pride and bowing up and just playing really tough defense. We do ‘Seven Shots’ football all the time. I think you saw it pay off.”


Nose tackle Javon Hargrave: “We were working all week on that. It really showed. It’s a little bit of everything, DBs covering well and giving us time to get back there and just people coming off blocks and making plays.”

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster finished with seven catches for 193 yards, including a 97-yard catch-and-run touchdown that tied the record for the longest offensive play in Steelers’ history (Bobby Gage had a 97-yard TD run on Dec. 4, 1949 at Chicago).

But it was Smith-Schuster’s reaction to a drop on third-and-7 from the Steelers’ 28 early in the fourth quarter that really got quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s attention.

“He had a great game, Steelers’ record now for longest pass play and he was kind of beating himself up over a drop on third down, and to me that was encouraging,” Roethlisberger said. “He could have sat in there and said, ‘I had a great game. I had this big play. I made all these big plays.’ But he’s sitting in there dwelling on one he didn’t make.

“For him to show that much maturity and to care and be that selfless and be ‘team first,’ that’s what I like to see the most.”

Smith-Schuster expects more from himself in such situations.

“Yeah, it was tough,” he said. “Those are huge catches. You gotta get the ball. You gotta catch it.”

A FAMILIAR SCRIPT: The Steelers’ converted seven of 14 third downs (50 percent) and finished just shy of 400 total net yards (392). But there were also dropped passes, open receivers that were missed, an interception of Roethlisberger, a fumble by running back Le’Veon Bell and a 1-for-3 effort in the red zone.

“Offensively, at least, it feels like that’s kinda been the story of our season so far,” Roethlisberger said. “Going to the bye 6-2 feels really good. It can be frustrating at times offensively because we’re not executing the way we want to, but we’re finding ways to win football games. Being able to hold onto the ball at the end of the game, converting that third down, taking a knee, that’s the greatest play in football when you can take a knee to seal it.

“We can find ways to win football games. Our defense is stepping up huge. We need them to keep playing like that because the offense is going to come around.”

THEY SAID IT: “A lot of people say ‘he’s young, he’s immature.’ I’m 20 years old, but when I’m on the field playing with my boys, I’m going to get the job done. I know what has to be done. I love to have fun on and off the field. You see my social media, you always see me smiling, happy. Life’s too short to be sad or to be down. Right now it feels good, I’m going home, it’s bye week, going back to L.A., see my brothers and sisters, USC’s homecoming game, so it feels good to be me.” _ Smith-Schuster.

“It’s definitely a great feeling. I wasn’t here the last time (the Steelers) went 6-2 (in 2011). We’re in control of our own destiny. We just gotta to continue to play as brothers and continue to win as a team and just continue to feel good.” _ linebacker Ryan Shazier.