‘D’ seeks to overcome last year’s poor playoff

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, center, smiles as he stretches with the team at practice during NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Thursday, July 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

LATROBE — The Pittsburgh Steeler defense wants to redeem itself from its last performance.

The Jacksonville Jaguars drubbed the Steeler defense during an AFC divisional-round home playoff game as Pittsburgh equaled a team record for points allowed.

Now, the Steelers want revenge. Not so much on the Jaguars, but moreso their own playoff performance in an effort to rectify an ugly outing that marred an otherwise stellar regular season.

“I think we had a decent year, but we were only looked at by our last game,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. “You look at that game, it was an offensive onslaught for both teams. At the end of the day, we got to get better on defense, because if you win that game, you go into next weekend with a chance to rewrite the story.

“But that’s the game we’re in. You’ve got to continue to improve and you can’t have those mishaps.”

The defense couldn’t come up with a stop during that playoff loss to Jacksonville, equaling a team record 45 points allowed against a Jaguars offense that scored just 10 points a week earlier.

“I want to put that behind us, but at the end of the day, it just shows you got to make sure you come out there ready to play, week in and week out,” defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt said. “We’re just going to come out and focus on what we need to do to get better. We have a good team and we have to go out there and prove it.”

Despite the playoff drubbing, the Steelers still statistically boasted a top-10 defense last season. The Steelers ranked No. 5 in yards and two spots back at No. 7 in points, while also establishing a franchise record for sacks in a season.

In the game against Jacksonville though, the Steelers allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense and failed to bring down Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles.

“You’re always humbled when you learn lessons, and if you don’t, you’re not in the right game,” Heyward said. “Every loss you should learn something different. It’s just about understanding what you did and improving on that.”

Heyward said it came down to missed tackles and a lack of communication.

“I think we were relaxed when it came to missed tackles,” Heyward said. “You clean that stuff up, and we were already a top-five defense, it puts us in a better category. You stress it more, but at the end of the day, guys got to buy in.”

The same could be said in the secondary.

“I think communication was the biggest thing for us, just no blown coverages,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “I feel like if we have a man on a man and they make a play, it is what it is, but no blown coverages and nobody running free.”

The Steelers will have to do it this year without linebacker Ryan Shazier, who sustained a career-altering spine injury during a December game at Cincinnati last season.

“Ryan’s our signal caller, so everybody has to be a little more communicative,” Heyward said. “No one can replace the instincts he has, but that means we have to be more sound as a defense. We can’t take as many risks because Ryan can be a riskier player because he’s so fast and plays off his instincts. We’re not trying to replace him, but we’re trying to make sure we do our jobs.”

It’s similar to last year when the Steelers finished 13-3 and won the AFC North for the second straight season and third time in four years.

Only this time, the Steeler defense wants to finish the job.

“I feel like we have a very great team,” Tuitt said. “But for us to be able to say that, we have to prove it.”

Notes: S Morgan Burnett (hamstring) returned to practice on Monday in a limited capacity. … WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee), OLB T.J. Watt (hamstring), TE Vance McDonald (foot), S Sean Davis (groin), and LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (undisclosed) missed their second straight practice. … CB Artie Burns (groin) and G B.J. Finney (elbow) both left Monday’s practice early. … The Steelers have a scheduled day off today before returning to practice on Wednesday.

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