Communication breakdown; Steelers trying to shore up defensive issues

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PITTSBURGH — Forget about the headsets. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for that matter too.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' issues in their opening week loss to New England had nothing to do with technology and everything to do with the most basic kind of communication, the kind where you open your mouth and talk to the person closest to you.

It didn't happen nearly enough against the defending Super Bowl champions.

"A few times we were poor communicators and sometimes it was good football by them," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. "It doesn't take many times for that to occur before you get an unfavorable performance."

The schedule makers gave the Steelers 10 days to fix things before hosting San Francisco in their home opener on Sunday. The extra down time allows the defense to regroup and Tomlin to reassess his secondary. He expects there to be a period of transition with Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor retired. It appears it might take longer than expected.

Shamarko Thomas, drafted in 2013 to become Polamalu's eventual successor, saw his spot atop the depth chart taken by 12-year veteran Will Allen.

"He's got to be good above the neck," Tomlin said of Thomas. "He's got to be in a position to make plays and he's got to be good at communication."

It was a widespread problem against New England. Pittsburgh gave up a long gain to Gronkowski when linebacker Bud Dupree stopped covering him believing there was a safety behind him to pick up the All-Pro tight end. There wasn't. Dupree took responsibility for the mistake, saying it was his fault.

Maybe, but Dupree and Thomas were hardly the only ones to blame.

At least they saw the field against the Patriots. Cornerback Brandon Boykin didn't see one defensive snap and if he's being honest, he's not quite sure why. The Steelers acquired Boykin from Philadelphia during training camp after second-round pick Senquez Golson arrived at Saint Vincent College injured yet he remained on the sideline even as Brady, Gronkowski and Julian Edelman did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to.

"I'm not frustrated," Boykin said. "I don't even know what's going on. You know, it's just Week 1, and it'll kind of play out as we go along this week and the rest of the week. But I definitely intend on playing, at some point."

Tomlin acknowledged Tuesday that Boykin understands the playbook but stated matter of factly the reason Boykin didn't get any run is because the Steelers "chose to play other people."

Those other people hardly distinguished themselves while Brady tossed four touchdowns on an emotionally charged night. Pittsburgh will try to get itself into the rhythm of the season this week against San Francisco (1-0), which was physical if sloppy in a victory over Minnesota on Monday.

Tomlin would like to see Pittsburgh's offense finish more drives in the end zone instead of bogging down, a bugaboo that cost the Steelers early last season too. Not having suspended running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant hurt. So did a false start penalty against left tackle Kelvin Beachum and a gadget play that saw wide receiver Antonio Brown try to throw a pass with Pittsburgh driving early. He was dropped for a loss and the Steelers failed to score any points at all when Josh Scobee pushed a field goal attempt wide.

Though Tomlin defended the play call to Brown, saying he prefers Brown to have the ball in his hands in any way possible, he'd also like to keep Scobee off the field.

"If you're settling for field goals, it's tough to win the game," he said. "We have to be better for obvious reasons. When we put together drives we need to finish with seven (points)."

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