Young Steelers defenders caught 'off guard' by Patriots' offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers' young defenders led to the surge down the stretch of the season. Those same youngsters got torched by Tom Brady Sunday in Foxborough.

When Ben Roethlisberger pondered after the game that the stage might have "too big" for some players, it was assumed he was only talking about the missed chances on offense. Yet young players on defense got a bit of whiplash from Brady, Josh McDaniels and Chris Hogan.

"The first drive hit us by surprise," second-year linebacker Bud Dupree said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They came out firing and they caught us off guard. We were checking and they were checking at the same time. Hats off to that team. They had a great preparation."

New England came out playing fast and never took its foot off the gas, gashing the Steelers secondary.

Dupree, along with rookies Sean Davis and Artie Burns, helped bolster a Steelers defense that allowed 16.6 points per game and just 287.4 yards per game in the previous nine contests. The infusion of young talent into the full-time rotation offered play-making up front and on the backend that was sorely needed in a milquetoast Steelers operation.

After facing a string of sub-par quarterbacks, the Steelers secondary went against the GOAT and got torched, allowing 36 points and 431 yards with zero takeaways.

Veteran corner William Gay believes the experience will help the young players grow this offseason.

"The young guys, all they know is playoff football," he said. "So, that lets you go into the offseason hungry and determined next year."

(Cue every Steelers fan making the same joke: "And Gay should be hungry looking for a job next year.")

New contracts for Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown will earn most of the offseason headlines, but Pittsburgh needs to continue to add pieces on the defensive side of the ball -- especially through the draft. Dupree, Davis, Burns, Ryan Shazier and Javon Hargrave provide a good foundation. But as we saw Sunday, it's a defense that still lacks depth and playmakers at every level.