Pittsburgh Steelers’ playoff hopes imperiled by poor defense

The O-line has struggled in pass protection as Tyrod Taylor has been sacked more than any quarterback in the league (40 times). The unit has its work cut out with sack artist Cameron Wake coming to town. Wake has recorded nine sacks in the last eight games and forced nine fumbles since 2015. Wake presents a good matchup for right tackle Jordan Mills, who’s given up eight sacks this year according to Pro Football Focus. Another matchup worth keeping an eye on is right guard John Miller against Ndamukong Suh.

In their Week 7 meeting, Buffalo was three of 13 on third down. The Bills must utilize the run game to avoid third-and-long because the Dolphins boast the best third-down defense. On top of that, Miami has 19 takeaways in the last seven games, the most in the NFL during that span.

Brown also broke the NFL’s social media policy for posting content before reporters had completed their postgame duties. The league will look at how the Steelers punish Brown, and if the team fines him, don’t expect the NFL to issue another fine.

Tomlin called Brown’s actions “foolish and inconsiderate.” Brown apologized and explained “emotions and genuine excitement” got the best of him. Tomlin talked with Brown about what happened, but it seems he got out most of his vitriol early in the week.

“Further investigation revealed that a Dennis Harrison, 25, of East Boston, who was found walking on the hotel property, had activated a pull alarm,” police said in a statement provided to NFL.com. “Harrison was not a guest at the hotel and had no legitimate reason to be on the hotel property. Troopers charged Harrison with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and setting off a false fire alarm.”

Luckily for the Steelers, the AFC Championship Game doesn’t start until 6:40 p.m. EST, more than enough time to make up for the team’s interrupted slumber. Still, it’s far from an ideal situation for the team heading into its biggest game of the season.

This game could have a new and cheap jerseys and different twist this week, as quarterback Trevor Siemian hasn’t participated in Broncos practice due to a foot sprain. It’s possible first-round pick Paxton Lynch could get the start, which would put a lot of pressure on the offensive line — LT Russell Okung, LG Max Garcia, C Matt Paradis, RG Michael Schofield and RT Donald Stephenson. The unit struggled to protect Siemian against Kansas City last week and allowed five sacks. Ironically, that’s the same number of sacks the Jaguars had on Tyrod Taylor last week. Maybe Malik Jackson can get rid of his “sobering” feeling this weekend and lead the Jags to their first win since Week 6. It’d feel pretty nice to beat his former team.

The Broncos will need to find their run game, which has escaped them since C.J. Anderson went on IR. Rookie Devontae Booker has averaged a mere 3 yards per carry in his four starts. This will put a large emphasis on Denver’s 22nd-ranked passing game — that might be led by Lynch. This won’t help much as the Jaguars’ strength is their pass defense (third-best in the NFL).

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The Steelers have one game left to make a case for a spot in this year’s playoff field, but that won’t be enough to get them in. In addition to a win over the lowly this Sunday, Pittsburgh will need a loss by the to keep playing well into January. For being in that unenviable position, the Steelers can primarily thank a defense that has been a weaker link than people realize. Those problems became apparent when Pittsburgh traveled to Baltimore and left with one more reason to hate their rivals.

The story coming out of the loss was that it was impossible to believe the Ravens — a team that ranked 25th in the NFL in points allowed entering that contest — could contain an offense that had scored at least 30 points in each of its six previous games. The real microscope should’ve been pointed at a Steelers defense that surrendered 20 points to a Baltimore squad that had generated 33 total points in its three prior contests.

Since 2014, the Steelers have used their first- and second-round picks exclusively on defensive players, continuing with this year’s pair of cornerbacks: Artie Burns (25th overall) and Sean Davis (58th overall). The duo will join Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones and Lawrence Timmons as core members of a young, athletic defense with a wolfpack mentality. With veteran leaders like James Harrison and William Gay leading the way, the defense is starting to regain the swagger that accompanied the unit for the better part of a decade.

Consider also that nine of the projected defensive starters — everyone but safety and cornerback Ross Cockrell — were drafted by the Steelers, while the second unit is littered with draftees waiting for their chance to crack the lineup. This is a testament to the team’s homegrown philosophy. The “draft and develop” approach has clearly served Pittsburgh well during this makeover.

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