On the Steelers: Sunday's outlook dim for defense

Though the Steelers played two games in a downpour and another between a subtropical rain, they have produced few of Mike Tomlin’s so-called splash plays.

They have three fumble recoveries, three interceptions and eight sacks in six games. In their two losses, they have zero fumble recoveries, zero interceptions and zero sacks.

“We didn’t make enough splash plays,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We didn’t come off enough blocks and weren’t productive enough in the run game, didn’t create enough disruption in the passing game.”

Steelers beat writers Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the upcoming game vs. the New England Patriots. (Video by Lake Fong, 10/18/2016)

Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette discusses head coach Mike Tomlin’s press conference. (Video by Lake Fong, 10/18/2016)

Take the first quarter Sunday in Miami. The Steelers snatched an 8-3 lead on Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 60-yard run. Two plays later, from the Miami 26, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a perfect pass over the middle to William Gay. The cornerback the Steelers bill in their current press release as “Big Play Gay” dropped it.

Had he hung onto it — the nickname is appropriate because he owns the NFL record with five consecutive interception returns for a touchdown — and either scored or at least set up a score, it might have been a game-changer.

“You have to cash in when given those opportunities,’’ Tomlin said. “We had a pressure structure where Will Gay had an opportunity to intercept a ball, I think we were up, 8-3. It was a significant possession, could’ve changed the climate of that first half, and we didn’t hang on to that ball, for example.

“We have to do things to increase the probability of those things and create the climate for those things to happen. But, not that the opportunities aren’t there. We have to do a better job of capitalizing on the ones that do exist.”

Had he intercepted, it would have been another milestone — the first pick by a member of the Steelers secondary this season.

The Steelers defense not only ranks third from the bottom in the NFL by allowing 293.7 yards passing per game, the secondary is the worst at intercepting passes, because no one has fewer than none. Steelers linebackers have all three of their interceptions.

If they could not intercept Philadelphia rookie quarterback Carson Wentz or Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, who had been intercepted seven times going into Sunday, how can they expect to come up with any this Sunday at Heinz Field?

Tom Brady has thrown 75 passes in his two games back from suspension. None was intercepted. He threw 624 passes last season, 36 for touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Brady ranks third in NFL history with an interception ratio of just 1.9 percent. For players who played at least 10 years, it ranks No. 2, behind only Aaron Rodgers.

There is an excellent chance the Steelers secondary will head into their bye week without an interception in 2016. With apologies to the Patriots, that has to be deflating for them.

The Steelers played Brady in the opener at New England last season. He completed 25 of 32 passes for 288 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions that night. The Steelers did sack him twice.

Their only chance at Heinz Field in four days may be to put pressure on him, but without Cam Heyward, their leading sacker this year and the previous two seasons, and their woeful record at pressuring quarterbacks to date, it would come as a surprise if they did get to Brady.

The Steelers defense that has been so good at limiting touchdowns was at it again in Miami. It held the Dolphins to three field goals — even after Ben Roethlisberger’s interception set them up at the Steelers 13 — through nearly all of the first half until Miami scored a touchdown with 21 seconds left.

“I thought we wore down as the game wore on,” Tomlin said.

That was partly the coach’s reasoning for Jay Ajayi’s 204 yards rushing against them. Sunday, LeGarrette Blount, the AFC’s fourth-leading rusher, returns to Heinz Field.

Can’t stop the run, can’t stop the pass, can’t get to the quarterback and can’t intercept is not a formula for success on defense.

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

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