PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers defense has had a saying under Mike Tomlin:
"Defend every blade of grass."
It's easier when lining up behind Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, but these new Steelers learned Sunday, in the Steelers' 24-16 win, that they too can defend every blade of grass after they held the Cincinnati Bengals to a field goal following a first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1.
It may have been the key series of Sunday's AFC North showdown at Heinz Field.
The Steelers did it after a couple of questionable pass interference penalties for 29 yards put the Bengals at the one-yard line.
The Steelers held a 17-6 lead and it seemed certain the Bengals would get back into the game late in the third quarter.
First, though, the Steelers had to get their minds right.
"Sometimes calls don't go your way," said Ryan Shazier. "But you've got to continue to play the game."
Shazier did. On first down he shot a gap and tackled Jeremy Hill for a two-yard loss.
"We studied a lot of film of the type of things they like to do at the goal line," Shazier said. "I had a feeling, and once I saw the play start to develop I just shot in and he came right to me."
On second down, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton dropped back and tight end C.J. Uzomah broke open in the back of the end zone. Dalton hit him with the pass but safety Rob Golden shoved Uzomah out of bounds before he could get two feet down.
The question was asked whether Uzomah got a knee down, but Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said, "I was told he was out of bounds."
"I was playing the defense that was called," said Golden. "I saw the guy come open and just tried to make a play to get our defense off the field."
Was there a coverage bust on the play?
"Shoot, I don't know," Golden said. "We're going to review the tape."
On third down, the Steelers rushed three and dropped eight into a new coverage coordinator Keith Butler had just designed. But even with only three Steelers rushing against five, Stephon Tuitt managed to pressure Dalton, who scrambled a bit to his left and threw an incompletion with cornerback Ross Cockrell closer to the ball than anyone.
"We were in a coverage that was like 2 by 2," said Cockrell. "A.J. (Green) ran a fade. I was on the fade. Andy Dalton scrambled around. I looked back and I saw the tight end pop open and Andy was scrambling and his eyes perked up. So I just ran to the open man."
He ran in front of tight end Tyler Croft just in time to field the one-hopper Dalton threw into the dirt.
The Bengals settled for a 21-yard field goal to cut the Steelers' lead to 17-9 but they didn't get closer than that the rest of the game.
"That goal line stand was big," said James Harrison, who knows what it's like to stop offenses down there.
Harrison of course, played with the Hampton-led unit that may not have had a peer in goal-line defense through three Super Bowl appearances in six years.
But this is a new defense, a defense that needed this kind of confidence builder.
"Anytime you go down there and put out a good performance, especially when they're on the 1 and you hold them to three points, and they don't even chance it on the fourth to try and go for it, yeah, it's going to boost your confidence," Harrison said. "It's going to make you feel good."
And it's going to make young guys crow the mantra.
"The feeling that we have as a Steelers defense," said Cockrell, "is as long as there's a blade of grass between them and the end zone, we're going to defend it. We take the field like that every time. We know we're going to defend lights out as long as we have blades of grass. And we did that today.
"We played ball," Cockrell added with a newfound confidence in his eyes. "We played ball today."
(For more of Jim Wexell's thoughts on the game, click here to go to the South Side message board.)