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'We're built to withstand anything'

Posted Dec 13, 2017

Steelers confident in next men up.

It isn’t as simple as “next man up” this time, but the Steelers being asked to compensate for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier’s absence are nonetheless familiar with the expectations as they’ve been relayed by defensive captain Cam Heyward.

“It’s telling guys, ‘You don’t have to do more than what is asked of you,’” Heyward explained. “‘You don’t have to be Superman, we just need your best.’

“Our defense is designed for us to just do our 1/11th, guys have to understand that. Going against the best, they’ll exploit it. But if you come back at ’em and say, ‘I’m going to do my job because I trust my teammates and I expect the best out of everybody else,’ then you’re going to be successful no matter what.”

The Steelers tried multiple players in multiple roles minus Shazier (back) and backup inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich (shoulder) in last Sunday night’s 39-38 win over Baltimore.

That was the start of what promises to be a process.

“We acknowledge that continuing to find our rhythm in the replacement of Ryan is not a one-week thing,” head coach Mike Tomlin said this week.

That sorting-out process will continue this Sunday against New England.

The Steelers rotated Sean Spence (34 defensive snaps) and Arthur Moats (19) at inside linebacker next to Vince Williams against the Ravens.

At times, L.J Fort was the inside linebacker in the six-defensive backs “dime” defense (eight defensive snaps).

And at times, they went with six defensive backs, three defensive linemen, two outside linebackers and no one at inside linebacker in the “dime.”

“It was tough,” free safety Mike Mitchell said. “The good thing is we’ve had a lot of guys doing it together for a long time so it made it a little bit easier.”

That included Spence, who was signed as a free agent Dec. 6, days before the Steelers hosted the Ravens (Spence had been with the Steelers from 2012-15).

The Steelers also rotated Coty Sensabaugh and Cam Sutton at left cornerback against Baltimore.

Joe Haden could be back in the mix at that position after returning to practice today for the first time since suffering a fractured fibula on Nov. 12 at Indianapolis.

“It’s a lot harder because as guys go down and you have multiple guys stepping in you have to be even more crisp,” Heyward said. “You have to have even more execution, and obviously we didn’t. But you have guys playing new positions, they have to understand, ‘We’re not just putting you in here just to put you in here. We’re expecting big results. We expect you to go out there and do it.’

“And when we needed those, we got it.”

The Steelers allowed a season-high 38 points and 413 total net yards (second to the 482 they allowed on Oct. 29 at Detroit) against Baltimore.

But the Ravens’ last two possessions ended with a three-and-out and then a sack-fumble that allowed the clock to run out.

“We just have a lot of people that have great composure on our team,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “We never really freak out. We’ve been in enough of those situations for people to actually still remain calm.”

The Steelers also intend to attack the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady with confidence.

“This is a game of confidence,” Tuitt said. “You have to go into this game knowing, ‘Hey, I belong in this position and this is what we’re going to do.’ And when you have a call sometimes and you’re going to be like ‘I know what they’re doing,’ you have to go for it.

“You want to always have him under duress. He doesn’t want to fall down on is back. He doesn’t want to be pressured, he’s too pretty. It’ll take not just us (the starters), but the next guy in, as well, to come in and continue to put that pressure on all night long,”

Added Heyward: “He can beat us a lot of ways but at the same time we have to think we can beat him a lot of ways. I know Michael Jordan won rings but it doesn’t mean he won all of them. Our main concern is playing good football, put ourselves in good situations.

“We think we have a good team and we think we’re built to withstand anything.”