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Striving to be the best

Posted Oct 2, 2017

Ryan Shazier feels like this defense is the best he has played on.

Shooting for No. 1: Yes, only one quarter of the season is in the books for the Steelers. But the numbers don’t lie.

Ranked second in the NFL.

Not a bad ranking for the Steelers defense, but at the end of the season, they want to take it one step further.

“We talk about it all of the time, we want to be the No. 1 defense in the league,” said Ryan Shazier. “I feel like we can be the best defense in the league. When everybody is taking care of their business, making the tackles we need to make, having the communication we had this week, we can continue to play at a high level.”

Shazier loves the potential of the defense, one that he thinks can be the best he has played on.

“I played with a lot of great players my rookie year, but honestly I feel like this is the best Steelers defense I have been a part of so far,” said Shazier. “Everybody knows everything we are doing, we have a great understanding of what we are doing. We have a lot of young guys that are really hungry and trying to be the best at their position at every spot. We have a few veteran leaders that help us and push us to where we want to be and that helps us a lot.”

Cameron Heyward also has been around some strong defensive play, and while he still looks at this year’s group as a work in progress, he too likes the potential.

“We are an unfinished product,” said Heyward. “We expect to look different in December than we do now. The growth has to take place over time. We have to keep stressing it.

“The sky is the limit if we take care of our business. That means coming to practice and doing the little things. We all have talent in this group. We have an abundance of it. With that comes responsibility to do the little things. There are so many great things we can do, but we have to take advantage of that.”

Last week the defense took some heat for their performance against the Chicago Bears, when they allowed 220 yards rushing. Against the Ravens, they allowed just 82 yards on the ground.  

“I felt like I played a lot better,” said Shazier, who had 11 tackles, an interception and three passes defensed against the Ravens. “The team as a whole played a lot better. That is the way we want to play as a team, as a defense. We want to eliminate all of the big runs, but I feel like we played better.”

Practice what you preach: Coach Mike Tomlin preaches the importance of creating turnovers. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler preaches the importance of creating turnovers. And every player on Steelers defense preaches it. It appears to be paying off.

The Steelers currently hold the longest streak of most consecutive games with a takeaway at 14 games, dating back to the 2016 season. The Jacksonville Jaguars are the next closest team with an eight-game streak. This is the Steelers longest streak since they had 15 straight games witth a takeaway in the 2004-05 seasons.

“We stress it a lot during practice,” said Heyward. “We always want the turnovers. We want to put our offense on a short field. We have to continue to do it.

“The job isn’t done until we are hoisting the Lombardi. That means take it one game at a time.”
 
On the run: Chris Hubbard has filled in at right tackle the last two weeks for Marcus Gilbert, and continues to get more comfortable with every snap.

“It’s been fun,” said Hubbard. “I keep adjusting every week. You have to adjust to different defensive schemes and what they are doing. It’s been a good week.”

What also made it fun for Hubbard, and the rest of the offensive line for that matter, was getting the running game going. Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 35 times for 144 yards, his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.

“You can control people when you run the ball,” said Hubbard. “You are wearing them down. You are wearing down the clock too. It’s a time management game.

“When you feel like you have an edge on the guys, you are begging the coach to keep running the ball because we have them where we want. We felt confident about it.”