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Steelers

Rooney on team's run defense: 'That's not Steeler football'

Joe Rutter
| Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, 5:12 p.m.
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette carries through the Steelers defense for a touchdown during the first quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette carries through the Steelers defense for a touchdown during the first quarter of their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.

Consistency with the run defense is a main improvement the Steelers need to make in 2018, team president Art Rooney II told fans Wednesday afternoon.

Rooney participated in a 20-minute chat with Steelers Nation Unite members, addressing myriad topics about the organization.

Rooney's message, especially about the defense, was similar to what he told a group of reporters a week earlier.

“Last year, there were some games where we were kind of soft against the run,” Rooney said. “That's not Steeler football or Steeler defense.”

The Steelers finished No. 10 in the NFL against the run, allowing 105.8 yards per game, after ranking No. 28 through five weeks. But the Steelers did not have a strong stretch run, which coincided with the loss of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Steelers allowed an average of 127.4 rushing yards per game over the final five games, and they were gouged for 164 yards by the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 45-42 playoff loss at Heinz Field.

“We have to start by making sure we are strong against the run and try to put the other team in a passing situation so we can get after the quarterback,” Rooney said.

The Steelers led the NFL with 56 sacks but had none in the playoff loss.

“That's one of the strengths of our defense that we need to continue to capitalize on,” Rooney said. “We're working on identifying the areas we need to improve on, and being consistent on both sides of the ball is something I think we can do.”

Asked about areas that need to be addressed in the NFL draft, Rooney said, “we're probably going to pick some guys on the defensive side of the ball. We have to be strong on defense as well as offense, so it's probably going to be a little heavier on the defensive side.”

On other topics:

• Rooney said Shazier has been a regular visitor to UPMC Rooney Sports complex. Shazier recently was released from the hospital and has been rehabilitating his spinal cord injury on an outpatient basis.

“He comes in here just about every day,” he said. “He does work out and helps the coaches with preparations. He's a busy man.”

• The Steelers continue to work to play a game in Mexico City. “Our guess is it's going to happen in the next couple of years,” Rooney said.

• He reiterated that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has two years left on his contract, said in an end-of-season discussion that he “was talking about playing three or four more years.”

• The Steelers will unveil a new throwback uniform in the spring.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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