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Stopping the big plays is paramount, and shouldn’t be difficult for the Steelers

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has a big-play problem, but fixing it shouldn’t mean reinventing the wheel.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers Jim Matthews-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has issues. It isn’t the same as earlier in the year, when they were getting gashed in the run, but there are some coincidences. Early in the year, Pittsburgh surrendered several big runs, and this was a large reason why they lost in Week 3 to the Bears and Week 5 to the Jaguars.

Now, it’s the pass defense which is getting hit with big plays all too often.

In only the past four games, the Steelers have allowed eight passing plays of at least 40 yards. The good news is the team has the personnel to return to a Top-5 pass defense, as their mistakes have been primarily mental. Nonetheless, they still need to be rectified.

“We come in on Mondays and Tuesdays (during a regular week) knowing what a team is going to do to us in certain situations,” cornerback Artie Burns told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “In the past few games, we haven't been making plays on those balls. We will get it right, though.”

“It's self-inflicted. It's things that we can control,” defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “I think we had a couple busted coverages (Sunday). We gave up a screen. On those screens, we have to be able to contain them so that we can run to the ball and have better success. If it's a 10-yard play, it's better than a 50-yard touchdown.”

Seems like a rather easy fix, but getting the job done on game day has been the real issue. One thing is for certain—if the team doesn’t start containing the opposition, they’ll find themselves on the losing side of the coin before too long.

Time to check out the Steelers news going on outside the walls of BTSC:

It doesn't hurt as much, because the Steelers are continuing to stack wins. Opponents, however, keep stacking big scoring plays.

“You can't give up chunks on defense,” coach Mike Tomlin said late Sunday night, “and give yourself chances to win.”

That the Steelers have spent the past three weeks proving that axiom wrong, paradoxically, doesn't make it any less true.

They're riding a six-game winning streak and a three-game streak of allowing scoring plays of 50-plus yards.

In two of those games, the Steelers allowed two touchdowns of more than 50 yards. In all, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Green Bay had six scoring passes of at least 39 yards during the past three Steelers games, five of which went at least 54 yards.

Add another game to the sample size and open it up to non-scoring plays, and the Steelers secondary looks even worse. Over their past four games dating to Oct. 29th in Detroit, the Steelers have allowed 11 passes of at least 33 yards and 13 plays of at least 25 yards.

“Obviously, that has to stop,” Tomlin said, “yesterday.”

After a season and a half as a spectator, Jerald Hawkins finally got into a game on Sunday. But it wasn't at his given position.

The 2016 fourth-round pick is an offensive tackle by trade, but he lined up for five snaps as an extra tight end in the victory against Green Bay.

“When they told me I'd be doing it, I was like, ‘All right, anything to get onto the field,' ” said Hawkins, who spent 2016 on injured reserve and was inactive for the first 10 games this season.

“It's really the same thing as (playing) tackle, was basically all it was.”

Before Sunday night's 31-28 victory against the mediocre Packers, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin looked ahead to the New England game Dec. 17.

During the game against the Packers, his team almost did as well.

On the NBC pregame show, Tomlin, in a stunning departure from the usual NFL coach refrain of “one week at a time,” said this about his club's pending showdown versus the Patriots:

“I'm going to embrace the elephant in the room. It's going to be fireworks,” Tomlin said. “It's probably going to be part one, and that's going to be a big game. But, probably, if we're both doing what we're supposed to do, the second is really going to be big.”

To be clear, Tomlin was addressing a game three weeks in advance. Furthermore, he is implying that an AFC championship game rematch to that Week 15 game is likely.

As a 16-year-old, I'd have sooner expected my parents to tell me on a Saturday night, “Sure. Take the car. Drive fast. Take chances. And whatever you do, make sure you stay out way past curfew.”

That's about as anti-Mike Tomlin of a quote as I could conjure. I would've expected something like, “The Patriots are a great team. We acknowledge that. But you know how we operate around here. We are singularly focused on the task at hand. This week, that's the Packers.”

You can almost hear him saying it, right?

After the last-second win, Tomlin doubled down on his statements about the Patriots contest.

“Everybody in America knows it's a big game,” Tomlin reiterated in his post-game news conference. “We couldn't deny it if we wanted to. You guys are going to ask us about it between now and then, so I stand by the statement.”

The candor is great. But these are Tomlin's Steelers we are talking about. They long have been a team notorious for losses to vastly inferior teams.