PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is a frustrated and embarrassed group after back-to-back losses against Miami and New England.
One day after defensive end Cameron Heyward said he felt like his defensive teammates quit during Sunday’s home loss against New England, defensive coordinator Keith Butler disagreed.
Regardless, the Steelers hope to solve their problems stopping the run and rushing the passer, all while taking a break to recover from injury during the team’s upcoming bye week.
“We have to play harder, we have to play more physical,” Butler said on Tuesday. “I think we’re capable of playing harder and more physical, but I don’t think we quit by any means.
“It’s frustrating and we’re all frustrated at this point in time,” Butler said.
Heyward missed the first two games of his career with a hamstring injury during the Steelers’ most recent losses against Miami and New England. He wasn’t happy with his defensive teammates after the Steelers kicked a field goal that cut the Patriots’ lead to 20-16. New England needed just three minutes to answer with a six-play, 75-yard drive, as a 37-yard strike to an open Rob Gronkowski set up LeGarrette Blount’s second touchdown.
“It was like we just quit,” Heyward said. “I don’t mean to say that lightly, but I feel like we had so many opportunities out there. I felt like after that, it was almost like the wind got pushed out of us.”
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons also feels the defense can do better.
“That’s not our best performance,” said Timmons, a 10-year veteran. “That’s definitely not a strong showing by us. That’s not a display of who we are.”
Miami’s Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers two weeks ago. Ajayi was the sixth in history and first since Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor in 2000 to rush for more than 200 yards against the Steelers.
Blount followed it up with a 127-yard, two-touchdown effort for the Patriots a week later, as Pittsburgh allowed close to 400 yards rushing in back-to-back weeks.
“We can’t play like that as a defense,” Heyward said. “We let them run the ball. Too many times they’re falling forward and that’s not what we’re supposed to do.
“You have to have some pride when you’re out there. Guys have to step up, whoever’s out there. There can’t be a letdown.”
It doesn’t help that the Steelers can’t get to the quarterback either. Pittsburgh is tied for last in the league with eight sacks, one season after finishing third in the category. The defense is also tied for 26th with three interceptions after ranking sixth last season.
Heyward said the Steelers’ problems aren’t for a lack of effort, but rather technique. Butler would like to see an increase in physicality.
“Some of it is that we have to be a lot more physical than what we are,” Butler said. “We’re trying to correct that.”
The Steelers hope to take care of their problems during the bye week.
“Whoever is in there has to step up,” Heyward said. “We have to have a concerted effort from everybody and it has to show on Sunday. That’s the most disappointing for me because I know what this defense is capable of.”
NOTES: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a limited participant in Tuesday’s practice, throwing passes during individual work eight days after surgery on his left knee. It’s still unclear when Roethlisberger will return to action. . Tight end Ladarius Green practiced for the first time since signing a four-year, $20 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. Green started the season on the physically unable to perform list because of offseason ankle surgery. The team now has 21 days to determine whether to put him on the 53-man roster.