PITTSBURGH -- It was nothing new for Brice McCain, but that didn't make it any less sweet for the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback.
McCain had just five interceptions during five previous seasons with the Houston Texans, but he returned one 38 yards for a touchdown in 2011. So, when Blake Bortles fired a pass right to him in the flat last week, McCain knew exactly what to do with the errant pass from Jacksonville's rookie quarterback.
"He threw it right to me,'' McCain said Wednesday. "I thought he was going to throw it over my head, because we had good coverage, but I guess he didn't see me and threw it right to me. Once I secured it, the rest was easy. I had a clear path to the end zone and ran it in.''
McCain's pick-six from 22 yards out was a watershed moment for a defense that hasn't forced many turnovers in recent years, let alone put them in the end zone. And with fellow corner Cortez Allen getting an interception for a second straight week, the Steelers defense could be on an upswing.
"We all have to work together on defense,'' McCain said. "If we hold our coverages, maybe we can get more pressure and get to the quarterback. If they provide more pressure up front, that allows us to have tighter coverage. So, it's a team effort on defense, but it always starts up front.''
The Steelers have had to shuffle their secondary since Ike Taylor's serious injury Sept. 21 at Carolina, with veteran Will Gay moving into the starting lineup. Originally, Antwon Blake moved into Gay's previous role in passing situations, but McCain has replaced him as an additional defensive back in the nickel.
"Brice comes from a team where he played a lot,'' Gay said. "He's played a lot of football in this league, so to get a veteran guy like that in free agency before the season was a bonus. And when things happen in the secondary as far as injuries, it always helped when you can plug in a guy like that.''
The win against the Jaguars won't go down as a defensive gem, as far as the Steelers are concerned, but it could be a turning point for the unit.
"We definitely have more confidence now after that last performance, safety Shamarko Thomas said. "It's not that we weren't confident in our play, but that kind of solidified it in our minds that we were doing the right things and that all that hard work would pay off at some point. And now, we have to build on that this week and keep it going.''
Many believed that Thomas would be moved in as the extra DB in passing situations, but the second-year safety hasn't even practiced there. Now, he has a chance to miss Sunday's game at Cleveland with a hamstring injury. He rode a stationary bike on the sideline during Wednesday's practice, while McCain is getting more accustomed to his role.
"I work hard every day in practice, and when you do that you can see the results in the game,'' McCain said. "So, I watched a lot of film last week to find some tendencies, and it paid off with a big play in the game.''
Both Gay and McCain believed that the club's new cornerback fit in right away, but it took a while for him to make an impact. Since he was new to the system, McCain didn't play right away, but he's been more involved the past three games. And the difference in the secondary play is noticeable.
"You get better and better as the weeks go on, and you develop better communication,'' McCain said. "And in the secondary, it's all about communication. For example, Troy likes to do a lot of different stuff, so I like to talk to him all the time to see what he's thinking and what he's going to do.''
McCain could be on the field quite a bit this week, as the Steelers visit Cleveland. The Browns were extremely successful in the no-huddle offense during the second half of a Week 1 loss to the Steelers, so the club expects them to use it more often Sunday.
"Oh, yeah, we expect them to run it a lot,'' McCain said. "Actually, it's more of a surprise if a team doesn't come out and do it. So, we believe Cleveland will be in the no-huddle a lot this week. It made a big difference in that first Cleveland game, because we weren't communicating very good, and that hurt us. But we'll be ready for it this time.''
And if McCain gets another ball thrown his way, he'll know what to do with it once he picks it off.