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Setting the tone

The Steelers not only liked what they saw in practice today, they were encouraged by what they heard.

“A really good day,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt reported. “A lot of click-clack going around.”

That was the sound the shoulder pads kept making.

And that’s what outside linebacker T.J. Watt wants to keep hearing on Wednesdays.

Watt acknowledged having heard a similar refrain a week ago today.

The Steelers’ defense responded by allowing season-low totals in first downs (22, tied), rushing yards (62), total net yards (324) and points in Sunday’s 41-17 decision over Atlanta.

Watt sees such results as less of a coincidence and more as evidence the Steelers are onto something in terms of their preparation.

“Last week we did a good job, we were in pads early on,” he continued. “We were in pads early on this week. We have a good structure that we’re just going to try to carry over in to the following weeks.

“I think it sets the tone for the whole week.”

Watt said the ratcheting up of the intensity in practice last Wednesday was easy to detect.

Less obvious was why that had been the case.

“That’s above my pay grade,” Watt maintained.

But he’s all for “practicing really aggressive and practicing full speed” as often as possible within the limits for wearing shoulder pads established in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

“In the NFL, when you don’t get to go in pads each and every day like you do in college, you can kind of get lulled to sleep,” Watt said. “And then that allows you to get lulled to sleep in the game plan and it kind of trickles down.

“I’ll never shy away from pads. I don’t mind pads. I wish we had more padded practices.”

Tuitt saw last week’s change as a reflection of who wasn’t available.

“I think we have a physical practice every Wednesday,” he said. “A lot of the guys knew the situation (last week). We had one of our starting linebackers (Vince Williams) down, so a lot of guys were more focused and paying attention to things they didn’t have to usually do.”

The offense likewise benefitted, to the tune of season-highs in third-down efficiency (9-for-12, 75 percent) and points (41) against Atlanta.

“Absolutely,” guard Ramon Foster said. “Wednesdays, for sure, have to be our days. We go in pads against our defense, it’s always a huge thing for us.

“If we want to be as good as we want to be the physical play has to stay consistent. The execution has to say consistent. It’s just those small things that we’ve been lacking we have to pick up.”

The timing for such an adjustment couldn’t be better, given the victory over Atlanta stabilized the Steelers’ record at 2-2-1 with a trip to Cincinnati looming.

Center Maurkice Pouncey is among those anticipating a physical game at Paul Brown Stadium.

“Rightfully so, it’s football,” he said. “Most games are like that. When you play in your division things are a little bit more talked about because you play them again.

“I think it’s good, football’s about being physical.”

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