The Steel Curtain it is not. But this season’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense might have found its own identity in a 37-19 victory Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
While the Steelers (2-1) were shredding the Panthers’ more-celebrated defense, Pittsburgh’s defense – which had struggled in its first two games – shut down Carolina’s attack.
“We get tired of hearing how any defense is better than us,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We have all the makings of being a good defense – a great defense. We took the right step today.”
The Steelers entered the game ranked 28th in the league in rushing defense (allowing 170.0 yards per game) and were giving up 26.5 points per game.
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Sunday, Pittsburgh limited the Panthers to 42 yards rushing and knocked two Carolina running backs – Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert – out of the game.
“We took a lot of pressure about not stopping the run around here,” Heyward said. “We didn’t get it done the first two weeks.”
The Steelers sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton three times.
One of those sacks resulted in a fumble by Newton, the first turnover forced by the Steelers this season.
The Steelers kept the Panthers in check for much of the night, giving up two Graham Gano field goals and a 37-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen. The Panthers also scored on a 39-yard pass from Derek Anderson to Kelvin Benjamin with 3:54 remaining, when the game was well out of reach for the Steelers.
And while the Steelers were pressuring Newton with a three-man rush, they also were causing havoc on the Panthers offensive line, which was penalized with several holding calls.
The game wasn’t without its costs for the Steelers defense. Cornerback Ike Taylor (broken arm) was one of at least three Pittsburgh defenders who were hurt.
But, after winning their season opener against Cleveland, then losing to Baltimore in Week 2, the Steelers might be back on track – in large part because of their much-maligned defense. Next up for Pittsburgh is a home game next Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“(Coach) Mike (Tomlin) told us good teams lose, but they do bounce back,” Heyward said. “We’ve got to keep growing.”