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Steelers' defensive woes persist

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 7:32 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Tennessee receiver Kenny Britt catches a touchdown pass between the Steelers' Ike Taylor and Will Allen during the fourth quarter Thursday of the Titans' 26-23 victory at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) sits on the bench during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

James Harrison admits the Steelers' defense has resembled a sprinter in a distance race. Too often they start gasping before the finish line, unable to clear the last hurdle.

They tripped up in Oakland. Then, they staggered and stumbled in Tennessee to surrender a victory to an underdog for the third time this season.

For Harrison, it's an alarming pattern that could transform into a playoff-busting trend if the Steelers (2-3) can't keep pace with AFC North rival Cincinnati (3-3) on Sunday.

“It's like we're finding ways to lose because we're not making plays near the end of games,” said Harrison, who added his surgically repaired knee has been strong since his return two weeks ago.

“Everybody has to take care of their job and take accountability for what they're doing or not doing.”

The defense has been fairly consistent — except in the second half. Unlike past seasons, the Steelers aren't delivering the knockout blow with the opposition's knees buckling against the ropes in the fourth quarter.

They had their chances to put away the Titans. But cornerback Keenan Lewis dropped a potential game-clinching interception, and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck twice sidestepped an all-out blitz to complete passes on the game-winning drive.

“The formula for any defense is to stop the run and pressure the quarterback,” Harrison said following Monday's practice. “Any quarterback who gets pressure in his face (every play) isn't going to be as efficient, and that's just the nature of the beast.”

The numbers suggests the Steelers are getting the job done. They are fifth in total defense: fourth passing, 10th rushing and 11th scoring.

However, veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton said it's not about the numbers. Rather, it's about the defense's inability to close with a flurry of impact plays.

“When you look at it, no one is physically dominating us,” Hampton said. “When the opportunity comes, we have to make plays.”

If the Steelers are to avoid falling further behind division leader Baltimore (5-1), they must find a way to shut down Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.

“We've just got to close — point blank, period,” cornerback Ike Taylor said.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

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