'We're definitely trending in the right direction'

James Conner had a season-high 145 yards rushing, Mason Rudolph had a season-high 251 yards passing and JuJu Smith-Schuster had a season-high 103 yards receiving, and yet Monday night still felt like it was all about the defense.

About 10 quarterback hits and four passes defensed.

About three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

About four sacks and two interceptions.

About 60 rushing yards surrendered.

And about shutting the Dolphins down and out for the final 46:34 of what became a come-from-behind, 27-14 triumph.

“We’re more than capable, it’s just being able to click,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt maintained. “We’re getting bits and pieces of that. We have yet to have a full, complete game, in my opinion, but we’re definitely trending in the right direction.

“Any time you can get a big third- or fourth-down down stop, that not only helps energize us defensively but also our offense.”

The defense surrendered touchdown drives on Miami’s second and third possessions.

But after a Chris Boswell field goal cut the Dolphins’ lead to 14-3 with 2:45 left in the second quarter, Miami never scored and yet never punted.

The Dolphins’ final eight possessions ended, in succession, by throwing an interception, by taking a knee to end the first half, by throwing another interception, by turning the ball over on downs, by losing a fumble, by losing another fumble, by turning the ball over on downs again, and by having the fourth-quarter clock run out.

Watt had two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, traded to the Steelers from the Dolphins this season, had both of the Steelers’ interceptions.

Those two led what gradually became a feeding frenzy.

“I just thought our energy picked up,” defensive tackle and defensive captain Cam Heyward said. “Early on, I don’t know what it was, we were just a little bit flat, making careless errors. But after that I thought we settled in, our DBs really started attacking the ball, Minkah got those two picks, and then we were able to get after the quarterback late.”

CREDIT IS DUE FROM JU-JU: Smith-Schuster’s night included a spectacular, 26-yard touchdown reception over cornerback Chris Lammons that gave the Steelers the lead for good at 17-14 with 3:16 left in the third quarter.

But Smith-Schuster seemed to enjoy talking about the defense as much as anything else in the aftermath.

“So crazy,” he said. “Fitzpatrick, he played an amazing game against his rival team. He’s always made plays for us since he came here, since the 49ers game. (Monday night) he showed he’s a guy who can be our deep threat, the last guy, the biggest safety, and causes picks.

“Another guy I would love to give love to, we were in the same draft class, is T.J. Watt. A big turnover, yeah, you can go in and get the sack but strip the ball, too? That’s like next-level-type of guy. I always say he’s a different breed and when you need a play-maker to make a play, T.J.’s gonna do it.”

GOTTA HAVE THAT CHUNK: The Steelers got the chunk plays they had been seeking in the passing game. Rudolph had a 45-yard, catch-and-run touchdown pass to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, 34- and 26-yard completions to Smith-Schuster and a 21-yard connection to wide receiver James Washington, to name a few.

But they also gained yards in bunches with the ground game. Conner had runs of 17, 25, 14, 11 and 11 yards, and a 9-yard touchdown run.

“Yeah, unbelievable job,” Rudolph said of Conner. “He came out hot early and it really kind of sparked us as an offense. (Head) coach (Mike) Tomlin had been talking all week about securing those 10-yard runs, and we need more of them. We’re making ourselves more of a complete offense and I think we challenged the offensive line, which had been doing great in that area all week.

“James did a good job. He’s playing up there at the top of the competition of running backs in this league. He’s a physical guy. He really provided us with a spark.”

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 8 game against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field

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