The Steelers were better on defense this season than they had been last season, but that doesn't mean they're as good as they'll need to be in the postseason.
"You gotta get better as the year goes along and you have to get better in the playoffs," defensive coordinator Keith Butler maintained. "We're gonna be in a position where you can't make a whole lot of mistakes and the intensity is going to go way up."
The Steelers finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in total defense, after checking in at No. 13 last season. They were No. 10 against the run, up from No. 13 in 2016, and No. 5 against the pass, an improvement from No. 16 a season ago.
But with the playoffs dead ahead, the defense can't afford to exhale.
"The further you go along in this journey to try to be world champions, the better you've gotta become," Butler said. "We've gotta become better as we go along."
Among the other subjects Butler addressed following practice today:
The impact free-agent addition Tyson Alualu, formerly of Jacksonville, has had on the defensive line's depth: "He was a high-pedigree type of guy. He was drafted in the first round when they took him and we thought a lot of him when we looked at the film. We thought he could help us giving us a little depth at those two inside spots (in sub-packages) and he certainly has. He's been a good pass-rusher for us. I'm glad we got him."
The use of rookie cornerback Cam Sutton in a seven-defensive backs sub-package for three snaps in last Sunday's regular-season finale against Cleveland: "It gives us a chance to know that we have a little bit of depth in case we want to do that. Obviously, you don't want to have seven DBs on the field all the time, they're going to try to run the ball on you if you do. He fits a need for us, no doubt."
L.J. Fort's adaptation to the role of "dime" linebacker in the six-defensive backs sub-package in Ryan Shazier's absence: "I've always liked L.J., he has good instincts. I think he's rounded into the job pretty well. He's getting a lot of confidence because he's doing some good things for us. Hopefully, he keeps getting better. You never know what you got until they start playing."
Quarterbacks running against man-to-man coverage (Cleveland's DeShone Kizer had six carries for 61 yards in the regular-season finale): "I got hot a couple times at that. That goes with the territory a little bit. You're trying to get a good rush, sometimes you leave rush lanes open and they get out and get a first down. That's the down side of playing man-to-man coverage but there's a lot of upside to playing it, too. We've kinda become a pretty good 'man' team, I think. We gotta be able to use both (man-to-man and zone coverage)."
Head coach Mike Tomlin's involvement with the defense: "Mike does a good job when he has them. Mike likes to sneak and coach a little bit. He really enjoys coaching so he has meetings with them on Fridays and does a good job with them, alerting them to some of the things they're doing."