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STEELERS NOTEBOOK: Defense almost does enough

by MIRZA ZUKIC on November 19, 2012 10:45 AM

PITTSBURGH -- One quick glance at the final statistics and it seems hard to pin any blame on the Steelers' defense for Sunday night's 13-10 loss to Baltimore that probably knocked the Steelers out of contention for the AFC North title.

That's not the way veteran safety Ryan Clark sees it.

Could the defense possibly have done more?

"Yeah. We needed to just make a play," Clark said matter-of-factly.

The Steelers defense was dominant in just about every facet of the game.

Pittsburgh held Baltimore, which has shown to have an explosive offense at times this year, to 200 total yards. The Ravens rushed for a mere 47 yards.

Furthermore, the Ravens converted only 3 of 14 third downs, and they went 0-for-2 in the red zone, having to settle for field goals both times they crossed inside the Steelers' 20-yard line.

But the big number was zero, as in the number of turnovers the Steelers forced.

"Down late in the game, we needed to get a turnover, sack, fumble, a pick, anything," Clark said. "Just to give our offense good field position. We had them fighting against a very good defense with talented players all day. We never gave them opportunities to have a short field like their defense did for them, for their offense. We lost the battle in that sense."

And so, despite not allowing an offensive touchdown, the Steelers found themselves on the losing end.

The lack of turnovers has plagued the Steelers the last two seasons. They caused just four through their first nine games last year and finished with a league-low 21. This year, Pittsburgh has nine takeaways in 10 games.

TREND REVERSAL: The Steelers entered the game with the NFL's best third-down conversion rate, converting at a clip of just under 50 percent (66 of 133).

But in Sunday's loss, they went a season-low 5-for-17 on third downs.

The obvious reason appears to be the absence of ailing franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed the game with shoulder and rib injuries.

But his teammates said that wasn't the reason for the low conversion percentage.

"No, I don't believe that's the issue," left tackle Max Starks said. "I just think it was a lack of execution on our part. A missed assignment here, a dropped pass there, this that or the other, miscommunication led to us not converting. We have to be better at that."

CLEAR-HEADED: After suffering his second concussion in three games in last week's win over Kansas City, Clark was back in the starting rotation just six days removed from the injury.

The 10th-year veteran wore a specially designed helmet Sunday night, and he admitted feeling "hesitant" early in the game.

"I'm not scared of getting hurt," Clark said. "It's just the implications of what happens if I get another one. Do they sit me down?"

Clark said his hesitancy disappeared late in the first half after a collision with Ravens running back Ray Rice.

"Ray Rice ran into my face late in the second quarter," Clark said, "and I went over to him and I told him, 'Thank you.' I said, 'That was what I needed.' When he gave me that, it was time to play football."

NOTES: Leftwich's 31-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was the longest run of his career. His previous long was 18 yards. Also, Leftwich's run matched Roethlisberger's 31-yarder from 2010 as the longest by a Steelers' quarterback since 2001. … Leftwich's third-quarter interception was his first in four seasons with the Steelers. … The Steelers held their opponent to under 100 rushing yards for the eighth time in 10 games this season.

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November 19, 2012 10:30 AM
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