The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won five straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 52-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, the team now has a chance to rest and relax and prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we talk about the biggest key for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense heading into Week 11. That is a simple goal, but something the Steelers haven’t done — stop/slow down Leonard Fournette.
Fournette gashed the Steelers in both meetings at Heinz Field last year, and the defense will have their hands full again, but with a depleted offensive line you have to wonder if this is the time Pittsburgh finally gets the upper hand.
Let’s get to the news:
Will third time be the charm for Steelers against Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette?
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Keith Butler has watched Leonard Fournette break free on a 90-yard run to cement a 181-yard rushing day in the regular season. He has observed Fournette cross the goal line three times to help oust the Pittsburgh Steelers from the playoffs.
What the Steelers defensive coordinator hasn’t seen is his defense slow down – let alone shut down – the bruising Jacksonville Jaguars running back.
While two games isn’t enough of a sample size to constitute a trend, Butler is keenly aware that Fournette can’t make it a hat trick if the Steelers hope to finally solve the Jaguars running game and extend their winning streak this season to six games.
“I don’t want to say he’s got our number, but he’s played well against us,” Butler said, “and we have to play well against him.”
That didn’t happen in either matchup in Fournette’s rookie season as the 6-foot, 228-pound runner combined for 290 yards and five touchdowns in Jacksonville’s two victories at Heinz Field, including that stunning upset in the AFC divisional round.
Butler’s defense will get another chance to answer the challenge Sunday when the Steelers visit TIAA Bank Stadium.
“We know what we’ve got to do,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We know we have to stop the run.”
The Steelers believe they are better equipped for this matchup, and the numbers belie their confidence. They are ranked No. 4 in run defense, holding teams to an average of 90.8 yards per game during a 6-2-1 start. They have gone seven consecutive games without allowing a team to reach 100 yards on the ground.
Then again, the Steelers showed similar improvement after Fournette and the Jaguars thrashed their defense for 231 rushing yards in Week 5 last season. They went six games in a row without allowing an opponent to reach 100 yards.
But that changed when Ryan Shazier sustained his spinal cord injury against Cincinnati. Minus their star linebacker, the Steelers yielded 127.4 rushing yards over their final five regular-season games. And, of course, the Jaguars rushed for 164 yards in their 45-42 playoff win.
“We played bad, simple as that,” defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said. “We didn’t execute, we didn’t get off our blocks, we didn’t control the line of scrimmage. We didn’t (create) turnovers.”
Plugging the leaky run defense was an obvious goal in the offseason, and the addition of inside linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Morgan Burnett, playing in subpackage situations, has improved the tackling and limited big plays.
The Steelers have permitted only six runs longer than 20 yards and none over 40. And they’ve shown an ability to make in-game adjustments. After allowing the Carolina to rush for 48 yards on the opening drive of the game, the Steelers held the Panthers to 47 the rest of the way.
“We are trusting a little more, trusting the defense and guys are tackling better,” Heyward said. “That’s what we’ve done in the past, and now we have to see if we can do it against (the Jaguars).”
Steelers excelling at scoring in red-zone opportunities this season
By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
During each of the past two season postmortem meetings with reporters , Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II has lamented his team’s lack of success in scoring touchdowns once its offense drives inside an opponents’ 20 yard-line.
Rooney II is getting his wish in 2018.
The Steelers lead the NFL in red-zone touchdown rate (78.57 percent) through 10 weeks of the NFL season, according to teamrankings.com. For perspective, the Steelers got into the end zone 53.03 percent of the time they got into the red zone last season and 54.24 percent in 2016, finishing among the bottom half of the league both times.
The improvement has come at least in part, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said Thursday, because of a heavier reliance on the run game.
“Trying to utilize our people the best we can, and to take the ball out of the linemen’s hands and not give it to (running back James Conner) some, not give it to other runners, is not fair,” Fichtner said. “It’s been good for them, and it’s complemented (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger). So, I think when you can be multiple and/or balanced, it’s probably always going to be best.”
Fichtner said the input of veteran offensive line coach Mike Munchak has been instrumental in tilting more toward Conner than throwing once they get inside the 10 yard-line.
Le’Veon Bell’s locker formally emptied by team staff at Steelers facility
By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Two days after the deadline passed for Le’Veon Bell to report to the Pittsburgh Steelers this season and a day after several players playfully went through the running back’s locker, his stall at the team’s UPMC Rooney Sports Complex was emptied completely by team staff.
Inside Bell’s corner locker just inside the entrance to the locker room had hung dozens of shirts and other apparel, with shoes and other equipment on the ground, a helmet hanging on a hook and cardboard boxes with dozens of pairs of cleats above it.
After practice Wednesday, teammates removed the wooden “26 BELL” nameplate that hung above the locker, and they distributed the pairs of Nike shoes. The mood, on whole, was tongue-in-cheek, and multiple players said no valuables or personal belongings were taken.
By Thursday afternoon, the entire locker had been cleaned out. Only metal hangers remained on the horizontal pole across the top of the locker.
Reserve tight end Xavier Grimble, whose locker is next to Bell’s, took advantage of the extra space and sat on a folding chair in front of Bell’s (former) locker Thursday. Grimble’s locker abuts a cramped corner, but it appeared he was uncomfortable sitting in front of Bell’s locker before it had been abandoned.