Can you hear me now?

They lined up with four new starters on defense and ultimately relied on four more players who played at least 24 percent of the defensive snaps, but defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was confident his new-look group had sufficiently coalesced in advance of the regular-season opener.

The 49ers established otherwise.

"Yeah, I was surprised," Austin acknowledged today. "I thought the way we functioned early (in training camp and in the preseason games), we were working really well and we would be able to take that into the game.

"It didn't happen."

Head coach Mike Tomlin cited "communication," and its effect on "pre-snap movements and adjustments" as a significant issue on defense in what became a 30-7, season-opening loss to the 49ers.

"We looked like a group that was in a loud environment for the first time or like we had some new people, and so that's coaching, as well," Tomlin observed on Tuesday.

Job One on defense as the Steelers emerged from the San Francisco game was getting to the bottom of why things played out as they had against the 49ers from a communication standpoint and taking the necessary steps to prevent a repeat on Monday night against Cleveland

"I wish I had an answer," Austin said. "I don't know. I just know it didn't happen the way we wanted.

"First thing we did, we come in here Monday morning, we try to figure out a way to get it right. It starts with my meetings and what we do and how we're structured and we go from there.

"The beauty of it is this week we have another opportunity to correct what happened last week."

First-year Steelers Cole Holcomb (inside linebacker), Elandon Roberts (inside linebacker), Patrick Peterson (cornerback) and Keanu Neal (strong safety) started against San Francisco.

Inside linebacker Kwon Alexander ended up playing 47 defensive snaps (69 percent).

Rookie defensive tackle Keeanu Benton played 29 (43 percent).

Outside linebacker Markus Golden played 25 (37 percent).

Rookie outside linebacker Nick Herbig played 16 (24 percent).

Veteran cornerback Chandon Sullivan, another new addition, and rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. also go into the act for the first time as Steelers. Sullivan played 13 defensive snaps (19 percent) and Porter was on the field for seven (10 percent).

Austin didn't see the communication breakdowns coming, in part, because the Steelers have been emphasizing the need to communicate on defense ever since OTAs, and made a particular point of doing so in advance of taking on San Francisco.

That work continues this week at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

"It's always been an emphasis whether you have a new group or an old group," Austin said. "When you get into stadiums and you're working in that back seven, any mistake cuts a guy free. And most times, when guys get cut free in this league they find the open guy.

"We've gotta do better at that. We have to continue to emphasize it and we have to make it come real on Monday."