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Steelers not 'cashing in' on interceptions, and Mike Tomlin is concerned

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers had plenty of time to evaluate their defense during the bye week.

The 362 rushing yards over the past two games is an issue. But the overall lack of splash plays compared to last year is also alarming -- particularly the low interception total, coach Mike Tomlin said.

Only the Indianapolis Colts have less than the Steelers' three interceptions, which Tomlin says are usually "inter-related to the pressure or the lack of pressure" up front.

Well, there's another problem. Pittsburgh has a league-low eight sacks.

This week's opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, have more than doubled the Steelers' total with eight interceptions and 16 sacks, contributing to the league's second-best total defense.

According to Tomlin, the Steelers should have at least five interceptions, citing William Gay's dropped interception in the Week 6 Miami loss and Ross Cockrell's opportunity for a pick in Week 1 at Washington. Those are not the only examples.

"We've missed some opportunities," Tomlin said. "We’ve had some significant plays with balls in our hands that should have been interceptions that haven’t been. We have to make those plays. Often times they change the climate in football games... family: There have been a number of issues that haven’t been cashed in on."

The sack and interception totals are eye-popping when just last year the Steelers posted 48 sacks and 17 interceptions over 16 games, the former good enough for third best in the league.

To be sure, Injuries have played a part in the decline. The loss of Cam Heyward, one of the league's most productive 3-4 defensive linemen, hurt over the past two games. He draws double teams and has the strength to move a guard backward. He should be back for the Baltimore game.

Linebacker Ryan Shazier admitted to showing rust in Week 7 against the New England Patriots after missing three weeks with a sprained MCL.

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree was the breakout candidate off the edge, but he won't return from sports hernia surgery until Week 10 at the earliest.

That leaves a foursome of Jarvis Jones, James Harrison, Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats trying to manufacture outside pressure. The Steelers need more help.

The front seven creating enough pressure lets the secondary read and react. That synergy hasn't been there in recent weeks. The defensive backfield has more depth, but when trotting out a defensive front of Ricardo Mathews, Javon Hargrave and L.T. Walton in certain packages, the Steelers can't expect to stop the run and apply quarterback pressure consistently.

Expect a more inspired effort in Baltimore, particularly after, as Shazier pointed out, it was good to "thud it up" in pads during Monday's practice.

Shazier, who intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass in Week 1, said the Steelers still believe they can stop the run and the pass.

"We've just got to honestly work on the execution and exaggerate the details when we're in practice," Shazier said. "That will allow us to do a better job."