Steelers defense not yet over the hill

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Steelers defense not yet over the hill

FOXBORO Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is 31 years old. At linebacker, you have James Harrison who is 33 and counting. Then there's linebacker James Farrior, who will be 37 years old if the Steelers managed to get to the Super Bowl this season.

This Pittsburgh defense may be low on young bodies, but it's loaded with experience.

That lack of youth was thought to be why the Steelers got off to a pedestrian 2-2 start.

Three weeks -- and three consecutive wins -- later, the Steelers look like a different team than the one on the field during the first month of the season.

All that talk about this once-dominant defense being past their prime? It's a thing of the past now.

"We don't pay attention to the elevator music; we really don't," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, in a not-so-veiled reference to the up-and-down perception of his team in the media. "That's stuff that they say. We stay focused on what it is, we're doing. And that's how we prepare, and hopefully that's how we play. We understand that we're going to be judged in forms and fashions based on our performance. But just that, it's based on our performance. We stay focused on our performance."

And lately, that form has been impressive with each of their last three wins coming by an average of 12.3 points per game.

In addition, Pittsburgh (5-2) comes into Sunday's game against New England with the NFL's No. 3 defense.

Although Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a 6-1 record against Pittsburgh (4-1 in the regular season, 2-0 in the playoffs), he recognizes as much as anyone how good this team is defensively.

"They're very physical, they cover well, and they have continuity in their defense," Brady said. "They get after the quarterback, they really do. That's the hallmark of this defense - they rush the passer, they stop the run, they're a big physical defense that plays very hard and is very well coached. They don't make very many mental errors at all."

Of course, it also helps to have a versatile playmaker like strong safety Troy Polamalu who is third on the team in tackles (43) this season.

"He's very dangerous," said Pats coach Bill Belichick. "He's an impact player, very disruptive player. Defensively he fouls up a lot of things - blitzing, pass coverage, tackling, he's a hard hitter, knocks balls loose but he's around the ball a lot. He can get there in a hurry and when he gets there he can do a lot of damage. You have to be aware of him on every snap."

He's not alone, of course. Pittsburgh is giving up just 279 yards per game, and an NFL-low 171.9 through the air. Not bad for a bunch of old men, huh?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger chuckles at the thought of his defense being over the hill.

"Just stay the course," he said. "We're too old -- quote, unquote old -- to really let that bother us or get to us. Most of us have been around and kind of understand what goes with the territory of this league and a team and we just kind of . . . stay the course."

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: What's going on between Patriots, Butler?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: What's going on between Patriots, Butler?

0:41 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith discuss what’s going on between the Patriots and Malcolm Butler after Bill Belichick praised Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe but didn’t have much to say on Butler.

5:39 - John Farrell thinks David Price out of the bullpen can be similar to Andrew Miller with the Indians last year in the playoffs. Our panel on BST break it down.

10:35 - Curran, Holley, Smith, and Phil Perry talk about the NFL ratings being down and why that continues to be.

15:15 - Evan Drellich joins BST after the Red Sox win to explain why Drew Pomeranz could be even more threatening, how good the bullpen actually is, and the offense not driving in runs.

Dorsett (knee) hoping to be able to practice this week

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Dorsett (knee) hoping to be able to practice this week

FOXBORO -- The picture at wide receiver wasn't pretty for the Patriots by the time the clock hit zeros in the fourth quarter in New Orleans over the weekend. 

Chris Hogan looked hobbled for much of the second half. Phillip Dorsett left with a knee injury. Danny Amendola was ruled out well in advance of kickoff with a concussion and a knee injury. Matthew Slater was ruled out due to a hamstring injury. Brandin Cooks looked like the only Patriots wideout to finish the game feeling spry.

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But as the team prepares for the Texans this week, Dorsett is hoping he'll be back on the field with his teammates for practice. 

"I feel good," Dorsett said in the Patriots locker room Monday. "Just a little sore, but I'm alright."

Not only would it help the Patriots offense to have another body available at receiver, but Dorsett understands how crucial it is for him to practice as much as possible. He was acquired in a trade with the Colts just before the season, and he knows he has work to do to get adjusted to his new offense.

"It's just me going out there and getting the plays in practice," Dorsett said when asked about his confidence level in running New England's system. "I feel like practice builds my confidence. If I get to play in practice, I feel more comfortable when it comes to the game."

Dorsett looked comfortable in Week 2, catching three passes for 68 yards. His first grab in the first quarter went for 23 yards and came on a play when Tom Brady, who was hit as he released, threw a floater down the right sideline. Dorsett alertly saw the pass falling short and worked back toward the line of scrimmage to make the catch. 

"I think he trusts me," Dorsett said of Brady. "We work a lot during practice and after practice. Hopefully we can continue to gain more trust as the season goes on. It's only the second game. We got a long way to go."

More practice time would be helpful in allowing that relationship to continue to grow. We'll see if Dorsett gets any when the Patriots take the fields behind Gillette Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

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