After Further Review: 'We've got to work on the run game'

Another avalanche of rushing yards against didn't matter this time.

The turnovers generated, four overall and three while the defense was pitching a second-half shutout, were what mattered.

That, and cornerback Joe Haden's had-to-have-it tackle.

And 7-6-1 overall and still in the hunt after Steelers 19, Titans 13, that's what mattered most on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

"I think we still have a pulse," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger observed.

How sustainable it'll remain the rest of the way is much more difficult to determine.

It's also less critical than finding a way to keep the heart beating week by week.

"We're not diagnosing big pictures," head coach Mike Tomlin maintained.

Not when they're in survival mode, in playoff mode already.

"Had the feel of a playoff game," Roethlisberger insisted, "physically, emotionally, the fans, everything."

There's not much better than winning those.

But there also aren't many of those in which you can allow 201 yards on the ground and live to tell about it.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 15 game against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field

The Titans were able to possess the ball for 39:08, run it 42 times and average 4.8 yards per carry around all the tip-picks and fumbled snaps and completed passes that turned into turnovers.

They ran it even though they didn't have their monster running back, Derrick Henry, and their mauling left guard, Rodger Saffold III.

They ran it even though monster wide receiver A.J. Brown didn't play and wide receiver Julio Jones didn't finish the game, which severely limited the Titans' alternatives to running the ball.

They ran it on first-and-10 and second-and-long and third-and-short.

They ran it eight times on their first 10 snaps (including a scramble) after they got the ball back down six with 4:29 left in regulation.

They ran it inside the two-minute warning.

They might be running it still had outside linebacker Derrek Tuszka not come up with a strip sack while drawing a holding penalty the Steelers had the luxury of declining with less than a minute remaining, a play that paled in significance only to Haden making wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine fall backward rather than forward on the play that finally ended it.

Surviving all of that required some "tangible and intangible qualities," as Tomlin credited Haden for bringing in his first game back in a month.

That's a characterization that could have been applied to a host of Steelers.

So they've got that to build on as well as a still-detectible pulse.

But they've also allowed more than 100 yards on the ground in seven straight games and in 11 of 14 overall.

And the 200-yard plateau has been breached in consecutive games after having allowed a season-high 242 rushing yards on Dec. 9 in Minneapolis.

"I still think we had some lapses in gap control, but the lapses in gap control were 6- and 7-yard runs as opposed to some of those in Minnesota," Tomlin assessed. "I don't know that we were any better, to be honest with you, from a gap-control standpoint. We just minimized some of the explosion plays when they did break.

"You gotta tip your cap to (free safety) Minkah (Fitzpatrick). I don't know how many tackles he had but as a middle-of-the-field player there were several times where I thought his tackling was big and covered up some lack of gap integrity."

Fitzpatrick had a fumble recovery and 14 tackles (12 solo), the vast majority of which were less spectacular than the plays made by Tuszka and Haden and T.J. Watt (1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery) but, likewise, heroic.

But a third game this season in which 200 rushing yards were surrendered was enough to compel defensive tackle Cam Heyward to contemplate ways to be better the next time in the immediate aftermath.

"That's a lot to clean up," he lamented. "I'll be banging my head (Sunday night) trying to figure out what we need to do.

"We've got to work on the run game."

That much being obvious makes the task no less daunting.

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