Better communication helping Steelers DBs

One week after failing to make the critical plays against Tampa Bay, the Steelers' defensive backs were good enough to get into the end zone at Jacksonville.

The transformation didn't happen by accident.

Cornerback Brice McCain's explanation had been relatively simple in the immediate aftermath of his 22-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Jaguars, the score that provided the much-need breathing room in what became a 17-9 triumph last Sunday.

"We watched a lot of film together," McCain maintained. "We talked about stuff.

"It showed."

It showed at the end of the first half, when quarterback Blake Bortles tried to attack the Steelers' end zone from inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line but instead found cornerback William Gay in the way on first down and cornerback Cortez Allen in position to disrupt the next two throws.

It showed at the end of the second half, when the Steelers surrendered just one first down on the two Jacksonville possessions that followed the McCain pick-six that had given the Steelers an eight-point lead.

And it showed throughout an afternoon during which Bortles' longest completion went for just 20 yards (a catch-and-run to running back Toby Gerhart).

The top photos of CB Cortez Allen.

Apparently the Steelers' defensive backs weren't just talking about the weather during their daily get-togethers prior to the Jacksonville game. Instead, a specific subject matter was addressed.

"Their tendencies," McCain said. "We really made sure we were on the same page. If your secondary group is on the same page, you won't have breakdowns. Most deep balls and big plays come on breakdowns. It's rare the cornerback is just beat; it's a broken coverage (that usually inflicts the most damage)."

The Steelers had been reminded of that the hard way on Sept. 28 against Tampa Bay, when multiple breakdowns in coverage resulted in a 41-yard completion to wide receiver Louis Murphy to the Pittsburgh 5-yard line that set up what became the game-winning touchdown.

Murphy had emerged as one of three potential pass catchers from a bunch-right formation, and the Steelers were determined not to go down that same path at Jacksonville.

"A lot of teams like to bunch (the wide receivers up) and make (the defensive backs) think, make 'em think 'pick-routes' or 'switch-routes,'" McCain continued. "'High-lows,' make somebody jump up and throw it over their head or (run) something deep and throw it low (underneath the coverage).

"You have to communicate as a secondary group and as a defense as a whole."

The Steelers have been working on as much and getting better as a result.

After the regular-season opener against Cleveland, dealing with a no-huddle/hurry-up offense was an obvious issue that needed to be confronted. After the Baltimore game, it was defending running plays behind an outside-zone blocking scheme.

The latest steps taken on defense in Jacksonville cleaned up what had helped allow the Tampa Bay game to get away. Such improvements have for the most part resulted from better communication, in McCain's estimation.

"It was the whole goal after we played Cleveland," he said. "Technique wasn't an issue, it was just communicating to get everybody in the right spot at the right time.

"The coaches tell us exactly what we're going to get every week. You just have to play your keys and keep your eyes on your guy, and you can cover anybody."

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