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Austin stressing basics with run defense

Stopping the run. Winning on third downs. Staying off the field. And ultimately keeping the other team out of the end zone.

They all go hand in hand when it comes to playing good defense in the NFL.

The Steelers have struggled at times, particularly in the second half of their first three games, doing those things.

Fixing them comes down to the basics. There's no magic elixir, at least not according to Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

"It's a process, and we're going to continue working, going to continue coaching our butts off trying to get it right until we get it right. That's the only way you can do it," Austin said Thursday at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "There's no magic formula. I wish there was a drink inside I could go drink and we'd be great, but there's not. It's meeting, it's detail, it's performance on the field. We've just got to put those things together. I'm confident we will."

The next test of that confidence will come Sunday at Acrisure Stadium when the Steelers (1-2) host the Jets (1-2).

There's been some good thus far in doing some of the aforementioned things. The Steelers are allowing 4.2 yards per rushing attempt this season, 12th in the NFL and much better than the league-worst 5.0 yards per carry they gave up a year ago.

With opponents converting nearly 47 percent of their third downs, however, they've been able to stay on the field and continue running the ball.

That's led to teams averaging 142.7 yards per game against the Steelers. It's a slight improvement over last year, but not the kind the team is looking for.

Because of that, the Steelers know they know they can and have to be better. That's especially after the Browns rushed for 98 yards and stayed on the field for nearly 20 of the 30 minutes in the second half of their 29-17 victory over the Steelers last week.

"We've got a leak. We've got to fix it," said Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. "It's not something we're going to run away from. We've got to look to get better. It's not one man's job. It's an 11-man job. I'll say that every single time. A run defense is about everybody being a part of it. We've all got to be accountable."

To Heyward's point, run defense is about the group working as a unit. Ten players can be doing the right thing, but if one gets out of his gap or blows an assignment, the whole thing can look bad.

And playing without reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, who missed his second game last week with a pectoral muscle injury, the Steelers are down a player capable of making superhuman plays. 

They need everyone on the field to do their job on every play.

"Technique. Not getting off blocks. Assignments were really big," Heyward said of what's gone wrong. "When you win, you can say, 'Yeah, we stopped the run a little bit, but we need to clean up things.' We lost. There are things that are becoming more glaring. Take out some of those times where we didn't tackle or we didn't fit. It really exposed us. It allowed the guy to get to the second level. You can't have great backs at the second level."

That great back last week was Cleveland's Nick Chubb, who finished with 113 yards on 23 carries.

This week, the Steelers will face the tandem of Michael Carter and Brees Hall, who have split time almost evenly in the Jets backfield.

But because the Jets have been behind so much this season – they've held the lead for just 22 seconds all season – New York has been more of a pass-first offense. The Jets are 26th in the league in rushing, averaging 84 yards per game.

With second-year quarterback Zach Wilson perhaps coming back off an MCL sprain suffered in the team's first preseason game, New York could look to lean more heavily on its running game to ease the young quarterback into things.

The Steelers don't want the Jets to find their running game this week.

Austin is stressing to his unit that the tackling has to be better than it was a week ago against Chubb, when the Steelers missed six tackles according to Pro Football Reference.

"Keep them bottled up and make sure when you tackle, you wrap," Austin said. "We've got to do a good job of wrapping and bringing guys to the ground. You can't shoulder bump people in this league. We've got to be strong in our tackling and good in our pursuit angles. That's really important because these guys are shifty and they are fast."

And be where you're supposed to be at while also getting off blocks.

They seem like simple things. But the guys on the other side of the line are professionals, as well.

And if you make a mistake or aren't where you're needed, they will exploit things.

"A lot of the mistakes we've made, we can easily clean them up," said Steelers linebacker Myles Jack. "It's a mixture of a lot of things. Maybe a missed gap here, a missed assignment there. We can fix it. It's nothing scientific. We're cleaning that up. We worked on it last week on Friday. We're working on it this week. It's going to be good."