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Steelers defense improving, but lacking the killer instinct to finish

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is quickly becoming a legitimate unit throughout the NFL, but they are still lacking one major aspect of their game.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

It is safe to say the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has turned the corner. From a group who never blitzed, never even sniffed the quarterback, and gave up yards at a ridiculous clip, the story line has certainly changed over the last four games.

Yes, I am fully aware who they have played in those games, but you can’t blame the schedule. Plain and simple, the Steelers are doing what they should do against the opponents on their regular season schedule.

In fact, just over the past four games, see where the Steelers rank among NFL defenses:

Points Allowed: 1st
Yards Allowed: 1st
Rushing Yards Allowed: 1st
Sacks per Game: 1st
Interceptions per Game: 1st

That is getting it done in some areas where the defense has struggled throughout the season. What is even crazier to imagine is how they are doing all this without their leader, Cameron Heyward. Nonetheless, the Steelers realize there is still work to be done, and in a big way.

After allowing the Buffalo Bills to claw their way back in the game, Ryan Shazier and fellow teammates realized what the defense is still missing — the ability to close out opponents.

“We definitely have to finish games better, put our foot on their throat and make them not be able to breathe,” linebacker Ryan Shazier told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Before the last two drives they had 7 points. In their last two drives they had 13. We have to do a better job of finishing. That will help us get our defense to where we want to be.”

Shazier wasn’t the only one in the locker room with a similar message after the team’s 4th win of the season.

“We have to bury teams, stick a dagger in them and finish them,” safety Sean Davis added. “We can’t give them life. This is a crazy league, man. If you give some people an inch they’ll take a mile. We just have to learn how to finish a team.”

The fact of the matter is this Steelers team is still very young in a lot of areas. Rookies Sean Davis and Artie Burns are starters, with Javon Hargrave also doing his part along the defensive line, when healthy. Then you also see Stephon Tuitt, Shazier and Bud Dupree all still on their rookie contracts, you realize just how much they have to learn.

However, it won’t deter a group which is starting to play with a confidence and swagger which hasn’t been seen in the black and gold for years.

“We have a talented defense,” Tuitt said. “We have linebackers that can run with anyone. We have defensive linemen that can run with anyone, and we have defensive backs that can catch and run with anyone. We’re just playing together.

“As the season goes on, the more we improve together, the more we learn from each other, the more we learn how each other plays, we’ll learn how to have dominant performances. We can have dominant performances. We just have to learn how to finish games. That’s our next step.”

It seems as if the Steelers defense has continued to gel throughout the season, and with three games left in the regular season the hope is the continuity continues to grow and this team becomes a complete unit when all is said and done. If the defense can stand up to the best the NFL has to offer the way they did the Browns, Colts, Giants and Bills, this team could be well on their way to a deep postseason run.