Steelers red-zone D looks to keep opposition out of end zone
PITTSBURGH (AP) Once opponents get into the red zone, the Steelers take it as a challenge to keep them out of the end zone.
That's part of the reason why Pittsburgh's defense leads the league in stops inside the 20-yard line, including four goal-line stands in the past two weeks, entering Sunday's road game against the Buffalo Bills.
''It's a short field and teams feel like they can get it on you,'' Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. ''They want to get one up on you, so as a defense, when you stop that, you go out there and assert yourself in a certain way and that's what we do.''
Timmons did as much when he came through with a game-changing interception at the goal line last Sunday against the New York Giants.
Timmons picked off Eli Manning and the Steelers' offense capitalized with a touchdown a little more than a minute later. Linebacker Ryan Shazier later broke up a pass on fourth-and-1 from the 3-yard line, helping the Steelers win their third straight game.
''That's huge when you have an offense about to score and you stop them,'' Timmons said. ''We're just trying to stop them and get the ball back to our offense.''
The Steelers rank 19th against the pass, giving up 256 yards per game and 14th in total yards allowed at almost 350 per game.
But Pittsburgh leads the NFL in red-zone touchdown efficiency at 42.5 percent, as opponents have scored 17 touchdowns in 40 red-zone drives this season.
''We don't want to let them get down there, but when they get down there, we have to keep them out,'' safety Mike Mitchell said. ''That's our job.''
Pittsburgh gave up 113 points during a recent four-game losing streak, but the Steelers have stiffened since, allowing just 30 points the previous three games. The Steelers, ranked No. 7 in the league in scoring defense at 19.7 points per game, held each of their previous three opponents to 14 points or less for the first time since 2011.
''Teams are trying to score points and we're just trying to shut them down,'' Shazier said. ''We practice that every day, so when we get down (in the red zone), we're ready for the situation.''
Preparation has been key for the Steelers, who regularly practice a goal-line drill called ''seven shots,'' where the offense has seven chances to score on the defense from the 2-yard line. More than that, the Steelers focus on an area they call the field goal fringe in addition to red zone and goal-line work.
''We get a lot of work against some good players,'' Steelers' defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. ''We try out different things to see if it works against our offense. If it works against our offense, it's probably going to work against everybody else's offense.''
The Steelers' offense is one of the most prolific in the league, led by two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger. Antonio Brown is among the league leaders in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Running back Le'Veon Bell leads the league in yards from scrimmage per game and ranks second in rushing yards per contest.
It's good practice for the Steelers defense when the opposition reaches the red zone.
''The players we have on our offense, it's hard for everybody in the NFL to stop them,'' Shazier said. ''If we can shut them down, we definitely feel like we can shut anybody down.''
NOTES: K Chris Boswell (abdomen), G Ramon Foster (chest), DT Javon Hargrave (concussion), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) and S Shamarko Thomas (concussion) did not practice for a second straight day. ... TE Ladarius Green (not injury related), QB Zach Mettenberger (illness) and RB DeAngelo Williams (knee) also missed practice Thursday.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL