Reaching untapped potential is one thing. Simply playing up to par is another. The Steelers defense has been outstanding at times so far in 2014 and, at other times, they've been considerably below grade.
It's certainly not lost on defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
"To be totally honest with you we're capable of so much more than that," LeBeau said, according to ESPN reporter Scott Brown. "We're not consistent enough. We made a step in the right direction but I know we can get a lot better than that. I know we can."
The Steelers were again carved up on the ground, allowing 81 rushing yards in the first quarter to a quality rushing football team in the Houston Texans. They allowed just 51 yards and a late touchdown the rest of the way in sealing a 30-23 win. Houston scored on its first three drives, jumping out to a 13-point lead before the Steelers roared back with the help of a few big defensive plays. Their momentum was generated during the final three minutes of the second quarter, when they forced two turnovers and the offense scored twice off them.
Starting with 3:08 remaining in the second quarter, the Steelers forced a Texans three and out. After an excellent catch-and-run by Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger connected with rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown pass - the first catch of Bryant's career - to make it 13-10.
Two plays later, running back Arian Foster took a savage hit from Steelers linebacker Sean Spence, forcing a fumble that Spence recovered. Then, the Steelers had Antonio Brown throw to Lance Moore for a three-yard touchdown pass on the first play after the fumble to pull ahead 17-13.
The Steelers kicked off and Texans' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a pass deflected right into the shoulder pads of Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The richochet landed right in the waiting arms of defensive end Brett Keisel, who rumbled inside Houston's 8-yard line. The second play from scrimmage was a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Bell and a 24-13 Steelers lead.
Pittsburgh hasn't seen such a burst of big plays and scoring in quite a while. Those kinds of defensive plays are what LeBeau is referring to, but the consistency he mentioned is also an issue. Facing a far more-advanced Colts team, the Steelers' defense now faces its biggest challenge of the season. They'll need the same kind of opportunistic mentality they had against Houston, but they're going to need to be fundamentally sound; much more so than they were early against the Texans.
"...when I see it's not in the proper position it's going to hurt the defense," LeBeau told Brown. "I don't give a damn what it is. I just want it to go away yesterday. And I think we're making improvement on that but we can get a lot better believe me."