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Though figuring out ways to cover tight

 
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner issues a warning to his wide receivers and tight ends if they happen to get tackled at the 1-yard line.“There’s a chance you might not get it again https://www.thesteelerslockerroom.com/authentic-juju-smith-schuster-jersey ,” Fichtner said. “When you get down there, you better make it count.”Fichtner isn’t kidding. The first-year play-caller understands the abundance of options he has while guiding one of the league’s most potent offenses. Yet he’s also installed a bit of an old-school approach when the Steelers get close to the end zone. More runs. Fewer passes. More big guys doing what big guys do best: pushing players in opposing jerseys out of the way.The results have been startling. Pittsburgh has turned a league-high 78 percent (22 of 2Cool of its red zone opportunities into touchdown celebrations, one of the main reasons the streaking Steelers (6-2-1) are on pace to set a franchise record in points.It’s a stark departure from Todd Haley’s productive if occasionally volatile six-year tenure as offensive coordinator, when Pittsburgh had no trouble piling up yards but would often bog down with the goal line in sight. The Steelers finished between 12th and 18th in red zone efficiency during Haley’s run, one of the reasons the team opted to go in another direction in the offseason when it fired him and replaced him with Fichtner.Fichtner was given a mandate from ownership to put up more points, and Fichtner has taken a decidedly collaborative approach to making it happen, whether if it’s giving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more freedom calling plays or picking the brain of offensive line coach Mike Munchak and assistant Shaun Sarrett to see what might work best when space gets tight.“Coach Randy has been really good in the sense that ‘Hey, Munch, what do you want to do? What’s best in this situation?'” left guard Ramon Foster said. “We all know that Munch is a guy that understands and knows the run. He and Randy have been putting us in really good position to run the ball in too. I say their communication is really high.”Having a running back who seems to embrace the dirty work required near the end zone helps. James Conner set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for touchdowns during his remarkable college career at Pittsburgh. He moved next door after the Steelers drafted him in the third round of the 2017 draft and was thrust into the starter’s roll when two-time All-Pro Le’Veon Bell decided to sit out the season rather than sign his one-year franchise tender.All Conner has done in his first nine games is score 11 touchdowns, 10 of them on the ground and seven of them on runs from inside the opponent 5. Bell never scored more than nine rushing touchdowns in a season and scored 18 rushing touchdowns total on carries inside the 5 during his five seasons with the Steelers.The issue for Bell wasn’t necessarily production but opportunities. Bell never had more than seven rushing attempts inside the 5 in a single season. Conner already has 11. Roethlisberger ranked second in the NFL in red zone pass attempts inside the 10 in 2017. He’s 15th this season because rather than throw it, he’s turning around to hand it off.“I think it’s been a shift T. J. Watt Jersey ,” wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “When you have a new offensive coordinator he’s going to emphasize some things that he feels like needs to change. I think the past 3-4 years we haven’t been great in the red zone. So having that run element has been good but also having (tight end) Vance (McDonald) healthy, having others guys healthy allows us to expand more and do different things and get teams in different personnel so we can run the ball.”And still throw it when necessary. Roethlisberger threw five touchdowns to five different receivers in last week’s 52-21 dismantling of Carolina, three of them coming from 12 yards or less.“We got a lot of guys that can make plays in this offense and coach Randy is finding a way to get that done,” Foster said. “Whether it’s him calling or whether it’s Ben calling, we’re finding a way to get it done.”Even if finding a way means simply looking at the talent at your disposal and try to avoid the temptation to get cute.“Sometimes you overthink it,” Heyward-Bey said. “Sometimes you’re trying to game plan, ‘Oh this worked for another team, so let’s try it.’ Sometimes you’ve just got to play hard-nosed football and I think that’s what we’ve been trying to do. We throw a couple tricks here and there, but we’re just going to try and come downhill and try to score.”NOTES: RT Marcus Gilbert (knee) and DE Stephon Tuitt (elbow) did not practice on Thursday. … Conner (concussion) and Roethlisberger (coach’s decision) did practice. PITTSBURGH (AP) — The bold-faced names on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense kept repeating the phrase “ball awareness” over and over during the offseason, as if they could somehow speak the goal of creating more turnovers into existence.It wasn’t just empty jargon. For all the chaos of Pittsburgh’s 1-4 start — from a steady stream of injuries at quarterback to a running game that’s practically vanished to the vacuum left at wide receiver following Antonio Brown’s departure — the defense is doing exactly what it set out to do after the team missed the playoffs last fall.Sacks are up, with the Steelers ahead of the pace they set last season Jerome Bettis Jersey White , when they tied for the NFL lead for 52. And the group that created 15 takeaways in all of 2018 already has a dozen through five games heading into Sunday night’s visit to the Los Angeles Chargers (2-3).The balance of power in the locker room has shifted dramatically from one side of the ball to the other. Considering the investment the Steelers have made on defense over the past decade, maybe it’s not surprising. The top of the depth chart includes seven first-round picks, a total that doesn’t include rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush, taken 10th overall in April.“The pendulum swings back and forth,” said defensive tackle Cam Heyward, a nine-year veteran who is the longest-tenured defender on the roster. “We’ve had a lot of injuries on offense and had a lot of guys leave. But I think we’ve been together a long time. … We have a good core of guys that have been together and know each other and know how to play together.”Yet Heyward knows his team needs more, perhaps a lot more, if it is going to somehow pick itself up off the mat without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, done for the season with an elbow injury. The wiggle room the defense enjoyed during the “Killer B” era is gone.Roethlisberger is out until 2020. Le’Veon Bell is running in place for the winless New York Jets and Brown is in a self-induced purgatory after getting cut by New England last month. Things have gotten so strained at quarterback that rookie undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges figures to get the start against Los Angeles. The receivers are a muddled mess behind JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner — a Pro Bowler last year — is averaging 3.3 yards per carry.This isn’t the first time in team history the offense has been ravaged by injuries. The 1976 group lost quarterback Terry Bradshaw for an extended period, forcing the Steelers to turn to rookie Mike Kruczek. Kruczek threw for exactly zero touchdowns in six starts, a span in which he went 6-0 thanks to a defense riddled with Hall of Famers that allowed 28 points over the final nine weeks.“Man James Conner Jersey White , we’ve got to get back to that,” Heyward said with a laugh.Or at least the 2019 equivalent. More than four decades removed from one of the greatest defensive runs in NFL history, things have changed. The rules are slanted heavily toward the offense. Ripping off five shutouts in nine weeks as the 1976 Steelers did is basically impossible.Still, there are signs the current group could be plenty disruptive in its own right.The communication issues that popped up during a 30-point thumping by New England in the season opener have quietly been ironed out. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — acquired in a trade with Miami last month — has fit right in. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt is in the midst of a breakout season. ends that typically have at least a 6-inch height advantage, the 5-foot-11 Bush already has three fumble recoveries and picked up his first career interception with a leaping grab against Baltimore last Sunday. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt is becoming a fixture around the ball, with 3½ sacks, a pick, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.The “Steel Curtain” it’s not. Yet the “splash” plays coach Mike Tomlin covets have become weekly occurrences. If Pittsburgh wants to stay competitive while the offense tries to sort itself out, they have to be.A year ago, Pittsburgh found itself regularly in position to make an impact only to let opportunities get away. In a 33-30 loss to the Chargers on Dec. 2, the Steelers were comfortably ahead in the second half when cornerback Joe Haden and safety Sean Davis slammed into each other while trying to break up a pass in the end zone. The ball popped up into the hands of Los Angeles wide receiver Keenan Allen Womens Jerome Bettis Jersey , sparking a comeback that sent Pittsburgh into a late tailspin.“One we should have picked,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said.It hasn’t been an issue over the past month. Haden pointed to a forced fumble by Watt against Seattle in Week 2 as proof. Three times early in the game Watt made it a point to attempt to punch the ball out of the hands of a Seahawks player. Twice he missed. On the third attempt, he didn’t. The ball bounced onto the Heinz Field turf and into the awaiting arms of linebacker Mark Barron to give the Steelers the ball deep in Seattle territory.The key, Haden said, is consistency and the mindfulness to stay aggressive. All that chatter about “ball awareness” wasn’t just talk. The Steelers have turned their words into actions.“We can be a top-five defense easily,” Haden said. “All we got to do is continue to communicate, continue to be on the same page. As long as we’ve got a body on a body it’s tough for us to get beat.”
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