Historically, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been known to have one of the stingiest and most imposing defenses in the entire NFL. They didn’t become known as the Steel Curtain by accident. However, in 2012 the Steelers defense has gotten picked on, picked apart by injuries, and overall just hasn’t been the unit that most of us have gotten used to seeing. At the bye week let’s take a look at what’s happened and think a little about what can happen going forward.
Defensive Line-This group is one that I believe has been hamstrung for several seasons. The role of a 3 man front in a 3-4 defense is fundamental. Eat up blocks, stuff the run, and give the linebackers behind them clean air to make plays. This season that hasn’t happened. And keep in mind this is a group that has dedicated multiple high picks to these players, even though philosophically it makes little sense to do so. Moving forward in the season, this group needs to understand their role, be selfless and less concerned about making individual plays. Who else misses Aaron Smith? Grade-C+
Linebackers-This unit has always been the strength of the defense and that’s what has been most troubling about the start of this season. James Harrison has been hurt, and the platoon of players who’ve tried to fill in for him have failed on all fronts. So that means that fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley has had a great season on the other side right? Wrong. During the Steelers loss to the Raiders I think the announcers mentioned Myron Cope more than Woodley. On the inside, veteran Larry Foote has been the best inside backer and really the best overall linebacker on the team. I am not sure if this is more of a credit to Foote or an indictment of the rest of the group. A little of both I suppose. Regardless, this group has 5 sacks for the season. There are players in the league on other teams with more than that. Unacceptable. Grade-D-
Secondary-Of the 3 units, this was the one I had the greatest concern with going into the season and nothing they have done has ebbed that concern for me. Right on schedule safety Troy Polamalu is hurt, cornerback Ike Taylor still can’t get an interception, and the rest of the corners all seem to be taking turns getting beat on plays. From a scheme standpoint, this group has to do a much better job tackling, and keeping the play in front of them. The coaching staff needs to abandon(at least temporarily) the aggressive blitzing style in favor of a more conservative Cover 2 type defense, that will bend but not break and force the opposing offense to be patient and when they aren’t, you take your shot. It’s how they shut down the New York Jets and it’s their only shot until they get healthy in the secondary and up front. With only 1 interception as a team, something has to change.
Overall, this group has been a disappointment. The lack of pressure and turnovers is crippling, especially for an offense that is struggling to sustain drives. I understand that to many fans, the notion of becoming less aggressive, more vanilla, and to some more predictable is blasphemy, but the fact is this group doesn’t have the talent to be anything more. Keep it simple, no big plays and get off the field. That must be the formula going forward. When they get Polamalu and Harrison back it’s still going to be a transition back to the more aggressive style we are all accustomed to, so for the time being patience and discipline must be the watch words.
What do you think Steelers fans? Come find me on Twitter @nfldraftboard and let me know what you make of the defense.