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Steelers

Steelers defense still stinging from effort in Green Bay

Joe Rutter
| Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018, 5:54 p.m.
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers talks to Pittsburgh Steelers' Artie Burns during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers talks to Pittsburgh Steelers' Artie Burns during the first half of a preseason NFL football game Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

If fans thought the sky was falling while watching the Pittsburgh Steelers defense play Thursday night in a 51-34 loss to the Green Bay Packers, they weren’t alone in that sentiment.

Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward shared the same opinion while standing on the sideline at Lambeau Field.

“It fell during the game,” Heyward said Saturday, letting out a laugh that masked his disappointment with the Steelers allowing their most points in a preseason game in the Super Bowl era.

Two of the Packers touchdowns were the product of interceptions returns, and the 37 points charged to the Steelers defense came with four starters sitting out, five if nickel cornerback Mike Hilton is included.

Still, there was no silver lining to be found in the performance. The Steelers gave up three touchdowns to Green Bay’s backup quarterbacks, including an 82-yard catch and run.

“Shoot, I’m going to be honest with you, 50 points is not something you ever want to give up,” Heyward said, “no matter who is out there.”

The loss evoked memories of the January playoff defeat when the Jacksonville Jaguars put up 45 points against the Steelers.

The Packers scored 34 points in the first half and scored on five of six possessions while facing a semblance of the Steelers starting defense. That group included defensive end Stephon Tuitt, inside linebackers Vince Williams and Jon Bostic, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Artie Burns.

Bostic was the only one of that group to play into the second half.

“Whoever is out there — and I’m not trying to make excuses — has to make those plays,” said cornerback Joe Haden, who like Heyward watched from the sideline. “At the same time, we’re not too worried about it. We still have to tighten up on the tackles and have better communication.

“Myself, Cam and the guys not out there, we’d be able to help out a little bit, but we still can be a lot better.”

The Steelers returned to the practice field Saturday for the first time since that loss, trying to correct the issues that cropped up against Green Bay, which played without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for all but one series. Coach Mike Tomlin had his players watch film of the loss in the morning and then work on fundamentals during a two-hour workout in the afternoon.

Tomlin was critical of his defense after the loss.

“We lost leverage too much in coverage, particularly on possession downs,” Tomlin said. “You can’t do that. Leverage is a big element of football. I thought we didn’t do a good enough job there. I didn’t think we did a good enough job of pressuring and containing the quarterback. I thought that was significant early on possession downs.”

The Packers converted 3 of 6 chances on third down in the first half and 6 of 14 overall. On another third down early in the first quarter, the defense had too many men on the field. This negated an incomplete pass, and Rodgers threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham on the next play for a 14-0 lead.

“A lot of it was technical mistakes,” Heyward said. “If we don’t do that, we’re not going to get beat like that, whether it’s angles to the ball, being in man and not keeping your leverage or not tackling well. Those are things that contribute to a loss.

“When I watch a game, I don’t want to look at the points. I look at why we did it. What can we do to get better? Is it something we can correct? If you can’t correct it, you shouldn’t be out there.”

The next chance to correct it will come Saturday afternoon against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. The third preseason game is when the starters typically play much of the first half and provides a better barometer of a team’s progress than the first two games.

“We need to get a couple series in or a half in to get a couple of three-and-outs and establish ourselves and get this thing rolling,” Haden said. “This is the time of the year to find things out and fix it. It’s preseason for a reason.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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