Searching for a happier ending

The Patriots got the ball back with 6:33 left in regulation and they never gave it back.

Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin knows that can't happen again, and suspects it won't.

"We looked at it and we kind of identified what we would have to do and if that situation comes up again I think we'll have it fixed," Austin maintained today.

New England snapped the ball 13 times on its clock-bleeding possession last Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, including one that was nullified by a holding penalty and three kneel-downs that finished off a 17-14 Patriots' victory.

Nine of the plays on New England's game-sealing sequence were runs, including a 5-yard scramble by quarterback Mac Jones on third-and-2 with 4:37 left in regulation that produced the first of four successive first downs earned.

The Patriots wound up with 124 rushing yards on 31 attempts (4.0 yards per), including one rushing touchdown.

"It's disappointing but we'll get a chance to get back at it against a really, really good rushing team," Austin said. "Hopefully, we'll make the progress we need to get a win."

The Patriots deployed a three-wide receivers set on their game-clinching drive initially.

The Steelers for the most part countered with variations of a five-defensive backs "nickel."

"It wasn't like we had an inappropriate number of people distributed to the run game," head coach Mike Tomlin assessed this week. "They blocked, they broke tackles and they got yards after contact. It has nothing to do with broad-sweeping things that might be a 'eureka' moment.

"It's about getting off blocks or sustaining them. It's about creating yards after contact if you're a runner, minimizing them if you're a tackler."

Added Austin: "If we put any more in (the box) they might have thought we were in the Canadian Football League because we'd have had 12 in there. We had as many guys as we could get in there."

Up next is a Thursday night test in Cleveland that's destined to stress the Steelers' run defense thanks to the Browns, that "really, really good rushing team," Austin referenced.

Baker Mayfield may be quarterbacking in Carolina, but Jacoby Brissett can still hand off to Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

And Steelers defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, who played in Cleveland from 2017 through 2020, considers D'Ernest Johnson to be the third member of a Browns' running back triumvirate that excels running behind an athletic, experienced and decorated offensive line.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 matchup against the Cleveland Browns

"You just got to find a way to stop it," Ogunjobi said of a Browns ground game that churned out 217 rushing yards in Cleveland's opener at Carolina and 184 last Sunday against the Jets. "It takes all 11 of us. It's not just one person. It's all of us on the field kinda being cohesive, and find a way to make a play."

The Steelers' approach against the Browns a season ago worked well enough to prevent the Browns from rushing for over 100 yards as a team in both meetings.

Cleveland was held to 96 yards on the ground in a 15-10 Steelers' victory last Oct. 31 in Cleveland and 93 in the rematch on Jan. 3 in Pittsburgh (a 26-14 Steelers' triumph).

"The AFC North (Division), we know each other really well around here," Austin said. "We kinda know each other's strengths and weaknesses. We tried to make sure that we didn't let them run the ball because we know that's a strength and we kinda have a pretty good idea about how they run the ball, what they're trying to do to us.

"That kinda helps, and our guys, obviously, an AFC North battle, they love the challenge."

Added defensive tackle and defensive captain Cam Heyward: "It's usually not one guy tackling Chubb, it's multiple guys. We all have to be responsible for stopping this rushing attack."

The Steelers limited Bengals running back Joe Mixon, a nemesis on two occasions last season, to 80 yards on 27 carries and kept him out of the end zone in the opener in Cincinnati.

But the end of the Patriots game isn't what the run defense is after.

"I still like the way we're trending," Austin said, "but we still have a long way to go."

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