Steelers defense hoping to disrupt Gronk, Patriots

PITTSBURGH (AP) – When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Sean Davis in the second round last spring, defensive coordinator Keith Butler reveled in the possibilities.

Here was a 6-foot-1, 202-pound guy who could play both safety and cornerback depending on the situation, someone with the size and the speed to keep up with – if not totally neutralize – players like New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Davis may very well develop into such a player, but he’s not there yet. “You would like to think we could put him on Gronk and say we got him,” Butler said. “I don’t think anybody can do that.”

Particularly on the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense, one that faces Gronkowski, Tom Brady and the rest of the NFL’s most diverse offenses on Sunday when the Patriots (5-1) visit Heinz Field. Brady’s lit up the Steelers for 24 touchdowns against just three interceptions in 10 career meetings with the Steelers (4-2), most of them against variations of the “Steel Curtain” that were far more imposing than the current iteration, one rife with inexperience, particularly in the secondary.

The growing pains have been evident. Davis has seen his playing time fluctuate and didn’t play one defensive snap in last week’s one-sided 30-15 loss to Miami . He may not get back in the lineup this weekend either. Cornerback Artie Burns, a first-round pick, is improving but still very much a work in progress. Special teams ace Rob Golden is in his first year as a starting safety and his main backup is Jordan Dangerfield, a former practice squad player.

Throw in linebacker Ryan Shazier – like Gronkowski a physical marvel – and the balky knee that’s kept him out of the lineup for a month plus a pass rush that’s been more rumor than fact in Pittsburgh’s two losses (zero sacks) and the prospect of facing a dominant Brady seems like a mismatch.

“We need to play more than one defense against these guys,” Butler said. “They’re very good. They can pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing.”

It’s finding the right looks to throw at Brady – who has pretty much seen everything – and the right people to put in the right places that’s the problem. Then there’s the issue of youthful exuberance. With so many fresh faces, the lure to try and go above and beyond while facing the NFL’s top tight end and a Hall of Fame quarterback is only too real.