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Steelers' pass defense impressive

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Posted Oct. 23, 2011 @ 3:22 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The Steelers' pass defense has been stingy early this season, bucking a collective league trend.

Through six weeks, NFL teams, on average, were surrendering more passing yards per game and per pass play than they had a season ago. By contrast, the Steelers were allowing fewer passing yards per game and per play than they did in 2010.

It must be noted that teams have thrown less often against the Steelers than they did in 2010, about five passes fewer per game. This may have something to do with teams having more success running on the Steelers than they did a season ago. Teams are attempting about four more rushes per game vs. the Steelers than they did in 2010, and the Steelers are allowing 1.6 yards per carry more than last season.

In an interview with PFW this week, Steelers CB William Gay said that there was no one "key" to the defense playing well vs. the pass, and that it was a collective effort that included the pass rush. Overall, the Steelers have surrendered just 10 pass plays of 20 yards or longer, tops in the NFL. Gay said that not surrendering the big play is a defensive focus and comes down to each of the defenders carrying out his own assignment. When players don't do their own jobs, "that's why you give up big plays," Gay said.

At 26, Gay is one of the Steelers' younger starters on defense. In some ways, he already has a career full of highlights, relatively speaking. He has played in two Super Bowls. A fifth-round pick in 2007, he's never missed a game in his five-year NFL career, and he's started 26 games.

He has also endured some adversity. He earned a starting job in 2009, then lost it in 2010. However, when CB Bryant McFadden missed three games with a hamstring injury, Gay stepped into the lineup, and he played regularly on the outside even after McFadden returned in Week Six. 

Gay told PFW he was open to any role the Steelers asked him to play, noting he handled playing primarily in the nickel defense a season ago. He's team- and task-focused, not wishing to talk about individual goals and not wanting to reflect too much about his path to a consistent role on one of the NFL's elite defenses.

"It's more work to be done," he said. "I'm never satisfied."

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