Practicing with a purpose

The shoulder pads came back on at practice this week, a necessary response in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's estimation. 

"The reason you have those things is because, obviously, the last two weeks we have not played the run well," Austin acknowledged. "I don't think you can play the run well if you're not practicing it. If we go out and say, 'Hey, listen, we want you to put your hands on a guy, make sure you're attacking this, get off a block and do that,' you're not going to do that when there's no pads on.

"We thought we needed it. It's a necessary evil. That's what we gotta try to do to win."

Wednesday's padded practice began a week of preparation for a Carolina team the Steelers expect will be run-heavy on Sunday in Charlotte.

The Steelers' last two opponents, the Falcons and Ravens, certainly were.

The Falcons ran the ball 22 times for 118 yards in the second half of a 19-16 loss to the Steelers on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.

And the Ravens ran it 42 times for 215 yards in last Sunday's 16-14 victory over the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.

That game came down to the Steelers needing a stop on a Baltimore possession that commenced at the Ravens' 21-yard line with 2:21 left in regulation.

Three carries by running back Gus Edwards and 13 rushing yards later, the Ravens were lining up in "Victory Formation."

"We called three run defenses, we just didn't get it done," Austin lamented. "I'm not going to sit and say who did what, or whatever. They did a better job than we did in that instance. We get those situations, we gotta be able to rise up and make them and get guys in the right spots.

"We knew they were running it and we didn't get it done."

The Panthers rushed 46 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns in their 30-24 victory over the Seahawks last Sunday in Seattle.

They've averaged 169.0 yards per game on the ground while going 3-1 over their last four (204.0 in the two games Sam Darnold has started at quarterback).

So the Steelers are well aware of what they'll be up against, particularly after showing vulnerability against the run over their last six quarters.

"Yeah, the last two weeks weren't good and, obviously, we know that," Austin said. "The biggest thing with run defense, a lot of times you can chalk it up to scheme but really a lot of times it's guys just hitting guys, getting their hands on the offensive guys and getting off blocks and making tackles. And we didn't do that enough in the last two weeks, get our hands on guys, knock people backwards, get off the block and make the tackle. And that's really where it is.

"If we don't do a good job of it this week we'll be singing the same song. So I expect our guys to come out and really make sure they get their hands on people, and that's not just the front. We're talking about linebackers, we're talking about DBs and crack blocks and all that other stuff. Everybody's involved in the run game. We gotta make sure we're physical, knocking guys back, putting our hands on 'em, getting off blocks and making tackles.

"That's really what the game comes down to. It's not a scheme. It's not anything like that. We just gotta be able to do that better."