Injection Of Starters Helps Fuel Impressive Defensive Display

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense got a much-needed shot in the arm in the wake of last night’s performance, with the first-team unit shutting out the Tennessee Titans’ starters in the first half of the third preseason game. The unit gave up 37 points against the Green Bay Packers the week prior, though many starters were missing.

Several of them returned or participated for the first time last night. Seeing their first helmet of the preseason was 2017 All-Pro Cameron Heyward at defensive end, as well as cornerback Joe Haden. Free safety Sean Davis also returned after missing a week, and Bud Dupree got a fuller workload after he participated following just one practice in the previous game.

There were some missing pieces, however, as Morgan Burnett, the team’s other starting safety, sat the game out with a minor injury. After a bad angle early in last week’s game, the veteran played well, particularly in terms of being fundamentally sound in tackling. Also missing was slot cornerback Mike Hilton and left outside linebacker T.J. Watt, the latter of whom has been out since early in training camp.

But the unit was as close to full strength as it has been at virtually any point since early in training camp, and for the most part, it did look like it. Subbing in pieces such as Cameron Sutton and rookie Terrell Edmunds, the starters really handled the Titans’ offense well and kept them out of the end zone, or even in field goal range.

Tennessee reached exactly midfield on its opening drive with a four-yard carry on first and 10 by Derrick Henry, but the running back lost two yards on second down, and Marcus Mariota’s pass on third and eight fell incomplete.

The Titans would not cross midfield at any point in the first half, and Mariota would leave the game late in the second after throwing a pass that was intercepted by Edmunds after Dupree chased him out of the pocket and sent him scrambling.

The defense also got to the mobile quarterback twice in the first half, first by Stephon Tuitt and then by Vince Williams. The second-stringers added another four sacks and an interception at the end of the game, and generally continued the solid defensive play, though they did give up a late touchdown.

Steelers fans were heading toward the nearest bridge last week after the Green Bay Packers seemingly had their way defensively, at least through the air. Many have seemed to calm down in light of their performance last night. We’ll see how long that lasts.

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