Something to build upon

Teryl Austin emphasized the need for the defense he coordinates to keep heading in the direction it's heading after an effort against Tennessee that qualified as encouraging but fell short of defining.

"We know we can be better and we still gotta be better," Austin emphasized after the run defense kept a lid on Titans running back Derrick Henry.

The jury is, likewise, "still out," on whether rookie Joey Porter Jr. can evolve into the shutdown cornerback he was for a night against Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Porter didn't have Hopkins on every snap of the Steelers' 20-16 victory on Nov. 2, but the 32nd-overall pick in last April's draft switched sides of the field with regularity in an effort to line up opposite Hopkins, a three-time First-Team All-Pro.

Hopkins finished with four receptions for 60 yards and Austin saw enough to begin to envision a day when Porter is assigned such tasks with regularity.

"We're hoping so," Austin confirmed. "I can't tell you that now, we're eight games into his rookie year."

The Steelers, Austin emphasized, wouldn't be philosophically opposed to having such a player at their disposal.

"If you have a guy that can do that, then that's what you want," Austin continued. "I had (cornerback) Darius Slay (when Austin was the defensive coordinator in Detroit from 2014-17) and we did that with Darius Slay. He had the best receiver every week because he was that good.

"If we get a guy that we think is that good and can play their best receiver every week, that's a good thing to have."

The run defense was what the Steelers had to have against Henry, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry but was limited to 75 rushing yards and didn't have a run longer than 15 yards.

The return to the lineup of defensive tackle Cam Heyward helped immensely but what really mattered to Austin was the Steelers' team-effort approach to run defense.

"As a unit, we did a really good job, I thought, in terms of keeping the running lanes minimum," Austin said. "He really only had one chance at a breakout run that (safety Damontae) Kazee knocked down. But other than that (Henry) was earning every yard, and that's really what we wanted him to do.

"We know he's a tremendous back. Having Cam back helps but it has to be a whole effort. Cam could have played his tail off but if everybody else wasn't holding their own then it could have gotten bad."

The Titans rushed for 105 yards as a team, the second-fewest allowed by the Steelers in a game this season and their best effort since allowing 69 yards on the ground on Sept. 24 at Las Vegas.

"I don't know if it's a confidence-builder because every week is its own, unique challenge," Austin said. "This will be a good one this week with the two backs that (the Packers) have. They have a big back (A.J. Dillon, 6-foot-1, 250 pounds) and they have a back that can cut back (Aaron Jones, 5-9, 208). He can get the edge, get outside. He can do a lot of things.

"We'll have a very similar challenge this week."