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The Day After, Part II: Marked defensive improvement


JACKSONVILLE – A day later, the feeling was pretty much the same.

No, the members of the Jaguars' defense weren't satisfied with the results Sunday. That's because the end result was a fifth consecutive loss.

But reviewing a 17-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at EverBank Field confirmed what players and coaches said in the immediate aftermath Sunday – that the performance was undoubtedly the defense's best of the 2014 season.

It's also something that should establish a foundation.

"It's still not there, but it's marked improvement," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said a day after the Jaguars held the Steelers to 10 points offensively, none in the second half.

Bradley last week had emphasized that the Jaguars' secondary – particularly the cornerbacks – needed to challenge receivers more consistently. That came in the wake of a loss to San Diego in which Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns of 24 or more yards.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 26 of 36 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown with a long pass of 30 yards. His lone touchdown pass was a one-yarder to tight end Michael Palmer.

"It was the best game we played so far," safety Johnathan Cyprien said. "We definitely found some things we can improve on. We want to do better on first and second downs to make third downs easier to call."

Cyprien said reviewing the game showed the receivers more contested.

"We had opportunities to have PBUs (pass breakups)," Cyprien said. "We pressed them, and the corners outside did an exceptional job."

The Jaguars, a week after limiting San Diego to 42 yards on 20 carries, allowed the Steelers 111 yards on 28 carries, with 29 yards coming on a run by La'Veon Bell. The Steelers rank seventh in the NFL with 137.2 yards a game rushing.

"I feel like we took some steps forward," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "You take one running play out and we held a team that averages double that. We knew they were a physical team and that Big Ben (Roethlisberger) is a big-time playmaker. We felt like the front seven and back really worked together. It's something we can build off of.

"We eliminated a lot of our errors we normally have. It's exciting seeing everybody at least giving us a chance to compete."

The Jaguars, who sacked Roethlisberger four times, are second in the NFL in sacks with 16 through five games. Miller said the secondary and linebackers were huge for the pass rush against Roethlisberger, and also critical in limiting the Steelers' running game.

"You've got to give credit to our back seven," Miller said. "We knew going in they wanted to be physical up front. The guys took it as a challenge to go practice and be physical. You say Cyp and Poz (middle linebacker Paul Posluszny) coming downhill and making some great tackles on running backs who usually make guys miss and run them over. To see that, to see guys step up to that challenge, was definitely encouraging."

Also on Monday:

*Bradley said he spoke to rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns Sunday after one of his three dropped passes about the importance of not pressing. "I brought him over to the sidelines and said, 'Hey, that's in the past now – don't worry about that … let's move forward from it,'" Bradley said. Hurns, who caught four passes for 26 yards Sunday, also was called for a holding penalty. "He's got to learn with those things that happen," Bradley said. "And he may have a drop here and there. But one or two can stem into four if you don't get your mind right quickly. I thought in the second half the look and how he was attacking it was better." …

*Wide receiver Marqise Lee, out the past three games with a hamstring issue, ran Monday and could return to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. "I'm trying to get back as fast as I can," said Lee, who has eight receptions for 73 yards this season. "My main focus is just to do what the trainers tell me to do. I know how I feel, but at the end of the day you want to have a steady schedule as far as how you want to go about coming back. You don't want to rush, because a hamstring can linger." …

*Running back Toby Gerhart said he re-irritated a foot/ankle injury on his second carry against the Steelers Sunday, limiting him to four carries and 10 plays. "I was excited about this game," Gerhart said. "Finally, I had no lingering effects, then the second carry it gets irritated. I'll get treatment and be back and ready to go Sunday." While Gerhart was the starter Sunday, all four Jaguar running backs – Gerhart Jordan Todman, Storm Johnson and Denard Robinson – ran out together during player introductions. "We're just a tight group," Gerhart said. "We just said, 'Why not? Let's all come out together,' so we did that."

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