Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin concerned about Steelers' defense

By The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 21, 2017 at 4:31 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Falcons Sunday afternoon to improve to 2-0 in the preseason, but the first-team defense still has miles to go before the games start for real.

The Steelers defense allowed 259 yards in the first half, including 211 passing yards. The most alarming thing for head coach Mike Tomlin was most of the damage was done against the starters.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan led a 91-yard touchdown drive, but he only accounted for 56 of those 211 passing yards. Third-stringer Matt Simms accounted for the rest.

"It's a combination of rush and coverage," Tomlin said. "It always is. There were too many escape lanes, not enough pressure and not tight enough in coverage. Those two concepts live and die together."

When asked why his starters played nearly two full quarters while the Falcons had their starters out early, Tomlin said: "We weren't getting off the field; they kept their self in."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the head coach with the regular season now less than three weeks away.

Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler would like to play more man coverage this season, but they have not been able to evaluate their personnel well enough this summer to determine if that's an option. Free safety Mike Mitchell has missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, and cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Senquez Golson, two players Butler was hoping would push for playing time, also have missed most of camp with injuries.

Plus, the Falcons game was the first of the preseason for strong safety Sean Davis, who said the chemistry among the defensive backs will improve in time as players return to the lineup.

"We have some work to do," Davis said. "We're not worried. A lot of us are just getting out there for the first time. Speaking for me, I had to dust off the cobwebs the first series. I started flying around the second and third series. We're just a little rusty getting our chemistry back together. I'm not too worried about. We have to make the corrections and move forward."

Second-year corner Artie Burns said it's not time to panic. It is the preseason, after all.

"No concerns," Burns said. "We just have to get back to the drawing board. We had a couple of breaks in coverage. We just have to get better on that. We didn't want to throw everything out there on the table that we're going to run throughout the season. We just have to get better on the stuff we're running right now - the basics. Once we get the basics down, we'll get to the more complex coverages, and we can be better."

Notes: Running back James Conner, a rookie third-round pick, made his professional debut and led the Steelers with 98 rushing yards on 20 carries. ... Wide receiver Martavis Bryant played in his first NFL game in 18 months. Bryant, who missed the 2016 season on a drug suspension, had two receptions for 20 yards. ... Reserve safety Jordan Dangerfield had two interceptions against the Falcons to boost his chance of making the 53-man roster for a second consecutive year. ... Nose tackle Javon Hargrave suffered a concussion against the Falcons and is in the concussion protocol. ... Linebacker Steven Johnson left the Falcons game with a hamstring injury and did not return. He said Monday he only tweaked his hamstring and said he would practice Wednesday. ... Cornerback Greg Ducre sustained an ankle injury against the Falcons. He had his ankle wrapped and was on crutches Monday.

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