Steelers' defense will feature new faces against Chiefs
PITTSBURGH (AP) Lawrence Timmons spent a portion of last Sunday in a Philadelphia hospital trying not to freak out about a puncture wound to the shin the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker suffered early in an ugly loss to the Eagles.
He might be one of the healthier starters on a defense forced to bounce back from a toothless performance littered with breakdowns both mental and physical.
Timmons practiced on Thursday and joked the blood that soaked through his sock looked like something out of a cheap horror movie.
What happened on the field without Timmons wasn't quite so funny in a 31-point hot mess that marked the franchise's worst loss in more than a quarter century.
Now Pittsburgh (2-1) must try to fix things on the fly with new parts - or in some cases ones that haven't been used for a while - in new places.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier is likely out with an achy right knee. Rookie safety Sean Davis is out with a bad back, while Robert Golden's hamstring is nowhere close to being ready.
The options to fill in on the league's 31st-ranked pass defense include cornerback Justin Gilbert (acquired from the Browns a month ago ), safety Shamarko Thomas (the former heir apparent to retired Troy Polamalu who has struggled to stay healthy and make any significant contributions outside of special teams) and maybe even former practice squad player Jordan Dangerfield.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler makes it a point to mix the starters with the backups during practice to keep the understudies fresh. Time to see how much they've learned.
''We keep guys who make our roster who we think can play in the NFL,'' Butler said. ''When you have injuries, and injuries are part of playing in the NFL, you've got to have guys step up and do a good job with it. We're hoping that'll be the case.''
The Steelers don't really have much choice if they want to get a handle on the Chiefs (2-1), whose game plan will almost certainly mirror what the Eagles did so well.
''If I was looking at that film, I would,'' Butler said. ''We've got to correct some things to make sure we didn't do some of the things we did last week.''
Namely missing tackles leading to ''chunk'' plays, and drawing flags that extended Philadelphia drives.
There's really not much Butler can do about the tackling, something that wasn't much of a problem in the first two weeks, when the Steelers won relatively easily and gave up yards in the middle of the field, but not in the red zone.
''There's no team that tackles more than we do in the offseason and in training camp,'' safety Mike Mitchell said. ''I've played for three teams, so I know that. No one hits more than we do. It's comes down to getting the job done. Getting the result we want. It's not like we're not in position.''
Maybe, but that will be challenged against the Chiefs. Butler's system is a little more streamlined than his predecessor Dick LeBeau, though that is largely out of necessity.
While LeBeau could rely heavily on veterans to embrace the nuances of his scheme, Butler doesn't have that luxury coaching a defense that has 13 players on the depth chart with three years' experience or less.
''This is the youngest we've been on defense in a long time,'' said Timmons, who is in his 10th season.
''You've got to do whatever it takes to get those (younger) guys on the field and get them playing like they know everything as a rookie. That's tough on him. We're 2-1. We had a little hiccup here on the road and get back on the winning track.''
Some pressure on the quarterback would help, any pressure really. The Steelers barely touched rising Philadelphia star Carson Wentz a week ago and now face Alex Smith, who is a more mobile version of the Eagles rookie.
Butler is coy about whether he'll blitz more often to give the pass rush a boost, something he's been hesitant to do so far over concerns about the rawness of Pittsburgh's secondary.
''Our young guys are maturing a little bit,'' Butler said. ''They're coming along and we need for them to come along.''
NOTES: G Ramon Foster (chest), WR Eli Rogers (toe) and OL Cody Wallace (knee) did not practice. G B.J. Finney was limited. ... The Steelers released RB Daryl Richardson on Thursday to make room on the roster for RB Le'Veon Bell, who will return on Sunday after serving a three-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
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