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For Steelers FS Mike Mitchell, team's issues with tackling have been more about execution, not desire

It isn't an issue of want-to that's causing the Steelers' amount of missed tackles through two games this season. It's a matter of execution.

Patrick Smith

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell spent a good deal of interview time this week discussing his intimate knowledge of the Carolina Panthers, who play host to Mitchell's new team Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

With the way he has played through two games for the Steelers (1-1), Mitchell -- who played for the Panthers in 2013 -- should be more concerned about his assimilation into his new club's defense.

Mitchell has made 11 total tackles, including eight solo stops, but he hasn't forced a turnover or recorded a sack after picking off four passes with two forced fumbles, eight pass breakups and 3.5 sacks last year with Carolina.

Speaking of turnovers, the Steelers have none through two games, even though this was an emphasis in the off-season and various veteran players -- such as Mitchell, Cam Thomas, Arthur Moats and Brice McCain -- and rookies Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers were drafted to beef up the defense.

"We have a lot of new guys, so it's going to take time, unfortunately,'' veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said. "But we don't have time. We don't have time for this to be a natural progression. It needs to happen now."

"It needed to happen yesterday. So when we come into work you have to be focused on your job and make sure that when you're out there practicing that you are executing your job.''

Two other areas of concern for the Steelers' defense are missed tackles and penalties, which were plentiful last week at Baltimore. The Steelers have committed nearly twice the amount of their two opponents with 20 for 171 yards, and a handful of those were of the personal-foul variety for 15 yards each. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin addressed both issues.

"I've been pleased with our guys' overall level of respect for the way that the game needs to be played in that particular area,'' Tomlin said about the penalties. "Sometimes you'll fall short.

"I don't have major concerns about our ability to respect the player-safety initiative and lowering the target and things of that nature. I know that we were called a couple of times in the football game, but largely in regard to our guys and our approach to it, I have very little concern.''

The reality is that the Steelers are averaging double the penalties they committed last season with 10 per game, even though these numbers reflect a small sample size.

"We're only two games into this one,'' Tomlin added. "Hopefully, by the time we're able to compare this year to last or any year for that matter over a 16-, 19-game schedule or 20-game schedule ... we'll have a better showing than we have to this point.''

The tackling issues are another story. Surely, the Steelers' defensive players haven't forgotten how to tackle at this point in their careers. Keisel didn't believe that is the case.

"We need to focus on the little things, and the bigger picture will take care of itself,'' Keisel said. "(And) you need to have good leaders in order to have a good team. We take that position very seriously and expect to lead by example."

"Sometimes you have to be a little bit more vocal, but we understand our role and what we need to do to make sure we're ready to play on Sundays.''

Mitchell paraphrased a quote by NFL legend Vince Lombardi with regard to the Steelers tackling issues. Lombardi basically said that good tackling was all about attitude and desire.

"It's more of your mentality and want to,'' Mitchell said. "If someone steals a dollar from you, how bad do you want to get it back? We did more than enough tackling in the preseason. I think we went live every period, and this is actually the first professional team I've played for that ever did that."

"So whatever we have to do in games to get that mentality to just get people on the ground, that's what we have to do. I don't think it necessarily comes down to a want to thing with this team. I think it's more of just execution (and) getting yourself in the right spots to tackle those high-caliber athletes."

"Those guys get paid, too, but if you're out of position and you're trying to make that tackle, obviously, it's a heck of a lot harder than if you're doing your job with 100 percent execution (and) being where you're supposed to be.''

Notes: WR Lance Moore (groin) practiced on a full-time basis again Wednesday, and he appears to be a step closer to getting his first game-action with the Steelers. ... NT Steve McLendon (right shoulder) and WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder) joined Moore in full participation and could play if they don't have any setbacks. ... RB Dri Archer (left knee, left ankle) was limited again Wednesday, and he was joined by left OG Ramon Foster (ankle). ... Three players did not practice, but each was given a maintenance day. They were DE Brett Keisel, TE Heath Miller and SS Troy Polamalu. ... Carolina had two players limited Wednesday -- WR Jason Avant (thigh) and TE Greg Olsen (calf), but the Panthers had a number of players who did not participate in practice, including OT Byron Bell (toe), WR Kelvin Benjamin (knee), WR Corey Brown (ankle), OT Nate Chandler (toe), LB Thomas Davis (hip), DT Dwan Edwards (back), DE Greg Hardy (no injury), RB Mike Tolbert (chest), RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh), RB DeAngelo Williams (thigh) and OT Garry Williams (thigh).

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