Steelers think defense can come alive again
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison feels the team’s current defensive woes can be cured.
Adding a former first-round pick into the mix can only help.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said second-year linebacker Bud Dupree is in the plans for Sunday’s game at Cleveland. Dupree, the team’s 2015 first-rounder, has spent the season on short-term injured reserve, working his way back from an injured groin. But he practiced the previous two weeks and could make his season debut Sunday.
“Any time you can implement a first-round talent like Bud, it’s always going to be a boost to the positional group and the defense overall,” said Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats. “From another standpoint, we’re all competing against each other, so to add another person that you know is going to be productive, it just makes you want to play that much harder.”
The Steelers placed Dupree on injured reserve during the first week of September after he underwent surgery to repair a groin injury. Dupree, who didn’t play in the preseason, was designated to return and began practicing last week. Tomlin will decide whether to activate Dupree to the 53-man roster for Sunday’s game, which would give the Steelers a five-man rotation at outside linebacker.
“Everybody’s interested in Bud coming back, as am I, but at the same time, we have to work with the guys who are going to play on Sunday and try to win a football game,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “That’s primary.”
That has been difficult lately for the Steelers, who have lost their last four games, sliding to 4-5 overall. The defense has allowed an average of 28 points and 134 yards rushing in those losses.
“You want to try and stop the run,” Harrison said. “You don’t want a team to be able to do two things well, because that’s a two-headed monster and it’s harder to stop that. We want to try and stop the run and pressure the quarterback when we get the opportunities.”
The Steelers have experienced trouble pressuring the quarterback, too, with 13 sacks in nine games. That’s tied for last in the league, one season after the Steelers ranked third with 48 sacks. The run defense could be the culprit, giving the opposition third-and-short opportunities.
“We’re not putting them into situations where they have to lean towards the pass,” Harrison said. “If they’re in third and manageable, it gives them an opportunity to go with (the run or pass) and you can’t pin your ears back and take off after the quarterback.”
Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has made a career of getting to the quarterback. The 38-year-old Harrison, who could start at right outside linebacker Sunday, has 76 ¢ sacks as a Steeler, a half-sack from the team record of 77 held by Jason Gildon.
Harrison thought he set the record last week against Dallas, but the sack was given to Stephon Tuitt, a decision upheld after a review from the league. Harrison doesn’t mind. He is more concerned with getting the Steelers back on track this week against Cleveland.
“That’s just the way it is,” Harrison said. “You just have to move on and go to the next week.”
NOTES: WR Antonio Brown defended his decision to run out of bounds rather than lateral on the final play last Sunday against Dallas, noting it wasn’t a lateral play and defenders surrounded him. “They had seven guys in the end zone and four guys around me. In that scenario, you guys tell me, what would you do?” Brown said. . DE Cameron Heyward (pectoral), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot), S Shamarko Thomas (groin), WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder), and RB DeAngelo Williams were all ruled out for Sunday against Cleveland, while S Jordan Dangerfield (groin) and TE Xavier Grimble (quadriceps) were listed as questionable.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP–NFL
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.