Tomlin: "We're growing and doing it better"


Steelers Notebook**

The Steelers defense has been in an uphill climb since week one, when a 31-19 loss to the Denver Broncos left them ranked 15th overall in the NFL.

Fast forward to seven games later and at the midway point the defense is ranked number one overall and against the pass, but it's not because they are doing things differently according to Coach Mike Tomlin.

"I just think that we're growing and doing it better," said Tomlin. "Over the course of a football season, you'd like to think that defenders have an opportunity to grow, not only in terms of what they do but in terms of understanding how what they do fits into the big picture."

Tomlin credited the growth of some of the young players on defense who have been called upon to play in situational defenses for the improved play, as well as continually adding to the defensive packages.

"I just think over time we're playing better football, specifically situationally and not that we're doing anything differently or dramatically differently schematically," said Tomlin. "Over the course of eight games or so as you go through a season, your packages are going to grow as you add to and you keep some and so forth. The packages are probably bigger now than they were at the early portions of the year, but nothing dramatic."

The Steelers running game continues to get healthy, getting Isaac Redman back last week and Rashard Mendenhall continuing to work his way back onto the field.

Once there is a full complement of backs available, which also includes Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Rainey and Baron Batch, Tomlin said the plan is to go with the hot hand.

"Whoever's being productive when healthy is going to get the totes," said Tomlin. "I really think it's that simple. I'm not going to make it any more complex than it has to be.

"At times this season we've had a running back by committee approach because none of them had been overly effective at that time. When someone's effective, they'll get the ball."

With Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey both ailing, Emmanuel Sanders could be the key to the Steelers return game this week.

"Emmanuel looked like a pretty good option to me last week," said Tomlin. "The ball will be in his court first."

He won't be alone in being asked to step up, but Tomlin will also be cautious how he uses certain players."We've got capable candidates, some of which are limited in terms of what we will allow or ask them to do," said Tomlin. "But we have capable guys. Mike Wallace has returned kicks in the past. We'll leave no stone unturned in terms of being competent in that area and I know that we have a lot of guys that are willing and capable volunteers."

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