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PITTSBURGH (AP) The offense expected to light up scoreboards is instead
grinding it out.

The way the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is playing Adidas
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 , it hardly matters.

The team expected to compete for a Super Bowl berth looks the part at the
season’s midway point. The Steelers just aren’t doing it the way most
envisioned.

Article continues below ...

Rather than race up and down the field with an offense that features the
highest-paid wide receiver and running back in the league, it’s the
remade-on-the-fly defense has propelled Pittsburgh.

The proof came in a 20-15 victory over Detroit on Sunday night. And while
Pittsburgh gave up 482 yards to Matthew Stafford and company, the Lions never
reached the end zone.

Not once.

Five times Detroit ventured inside the Steelers 20. The results? Three field
goals and two failed attempts on fourth down.

”We gave up a lot of yards, but we definitely didn’t break when we needed to
the most,” linebacker Ryan Shazier. ”And then I feel like it really helped us
grow a bit.”

Pittsburgh (6-2) heads into its bye week firmly atop the AFC North after its
third straight win. While the defense slipped from second to fourth in total
yards after letting the Lions go up and down Ford Field, the Steelers are tied
for second in points allowed. Heady territory for a unit that doesn’t have
starter over 30.

”I know we had some mishaps Adidas
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 , but I’m glad we’re 6-2,” defensive end
Cameron Heyward said.

With considerable room for improvement, particularly the $92 million
offense.

The unit that once – albeit not this season – said it wanted to make scoring
30 points the norm has struggled at times to reach 20.

Le’Veon Bell’s slow start following his decision to skip training camp didn’t
help. Neither has the enigmatic play of wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who spent
Sunday night on the sideline in sweat pants after being deactivated by coach
Mike Tomlin for making the ill-advised decision to vent his frustrations on
social media .

Yet the Steelers have turned things around after a 30-9 mauling at home by
Jacksonville, a loss that included a pair of pick-6s thrown by Ben
Roethlisberger, who facetiously wondered if he still had ”it.”

Three straight victories have followed and while Roethlisberger is still
searching for consistency – his completion rate (61.1 percent) is his lowest
since 2008 – he’s developed a rapport with rookie wide receiver JuJu
Smith-Schuster Adidas
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 , taking some of the pressure off All-Pro
Antonio Brown.

Smith-Schuster had career highs in receptions (seven) and yards receiving
(193) against the Lions, showcasing a burst even he wasn’t sure he had on a
97-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the third quarter that served as the
longest pass play in the franchise’s 86-year history.

Smith-Schuster also sealed the win by taking a shovel pass from
Roethlisberger and bulling for a first down with less than two minutes to go, a
conversion that allowed the Steelers to run out the clock.

”The best player under 21 ever and I mean that,” Bell said of his teammate,
who turns 21 on Nov. 22.image

One with a burgeoning national profile. Smith-Schuster’s ”hide and seek”
touchdown celebration with Bell a week ago went viral.

Then the bicycle he rides from his apartment to the team’s training facility
was stolen , leading to breathless and not entirely tongue-in-cheek news
coverage before it was recovered.

Smith-Schuster made light of it after his record-setting score against
Detroit Adidas
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 , taking a chain and looping it around a
stationary bike on the Pittsburgh sideline.

It was a light moment on a night where the Steelers again struggled to put
away an opponent. For all of the talent in the huddle, Pittsburgh is 30th in the
league in converting red zone possessions into touchdowns.

Even the typically sure-handed Bell had a momentary lapse, fumbling at the
Detroit 21 late in the second quarter.

”`I’m glad we got out of the game with a `W’, but we still can go back, look
at the film and look at, `Oh look Adidas
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 , we can clean this up. We can do this,”’ Bell
said.

”We know we haven’t played our best football yet and we’re just glad that
we’re able to get the wins where we’re getting them, whether they’re pretty or
not.”

Maybe that’s the surest sign of maturity on a team that will get a
much-needed break before beginning the second half of the season at
injury-ravaged Indianapolis on Nov. 12 before playing five of their final seven
at Heinz Field.

”Going to the bye at 6-2 feels really good,” Roethlisberger said. ”It can be
frustrating at times offensively because we’re not executing the way we want to,
but we’re finding ways to win football games.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and
http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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