Steady pass rush is key to Steelers' success

Defensive end Cameron Heyward and the Steelers defense had a productive day against the Packers in Sunday's preseason game. AP Photo/Don Wright

PITTSBURGH -- This isn’t defense with a shutdown cornerback. Only a few NFL teams truly have that. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a collection of solid corners that can play zone coverages, mix in some man coverage, mostly keep receivers in front of them and go tackle them, occasionally leaving the middle of the field open. They will probably give up some yards but will emphasize scoring defense.

This is all workable, assuming there’s a steady pass rush.

That’s why Sunday’s 24-19 victory against the Green Bay Packers was encouraging. Six different Steelers recorded a sack, including safety Shamarko Thomas on a timely blitz. Young pass rushers Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree both showed some explosion. James Harrison has two sacks in two preseason games with a deceptively quick edge rush.

That rush didn’t come as strongly against Jacksonville on Aug. 14, and Blake Bortles completed most of his passes.

Aaron Rodgers completed his first four passes for 57 yards before the defense settled down. Rodgers played two series, but the day was still productive for Pittsburgh's defense.

“That’s what we continue to have to do, get after the quarterback,” said Jones, who beat a left tackle with a stutter-step move for a sack. “I feel our defense will be a whole lot better if we start out getting after the quarterback. They want to see us rush. Coach [Mike] Tomlin looked at our film and guys getting to the quarterback. We accepted the challenge.”

A prime example was the safety on Rodgers on the second series. Cameron Heyward got the interior push, Harrison came off the edge to grab Rodgers, with rookie Bud Dupree and Sean Spence surging from the left side.

Dupree shrugged off a sluggish first two games with a sack in the second half and an impressive tackle of fullback of John Kuhn for no gain. He was close to getting two other sacks. Jones said Dupree is “coming into his self.”

If those two start producing consistently, coupled with veterans Harrison and Arthur Moats, suddenly outside linebacker is a position of strength.

Much success hinges on the chemistry of starting safeties Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell, along with Will Allen, who should play also.

Mitchell and Thomas missed the first few weeks of camp with hamstring injuries, and the rust showed against Jacksonville.

Thomas, in particular, lost Jaguars fullback Clay Harbor on a long touchdown. Coaches noticed that, of course, so Thomas wanted to redirect the attention to a positive light. He seemed to do that Sunday.

At cornerback, Antwon Blake had an active day with six tackles and a pass breakup.

“Coaches tell you something, you definitely want to prove you’re capable of getting the job done,” Thomas said.