The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ defense is not what it used to be. Not in any way, shape or form. Some say that it is merely the fact that the players are not what they used to be, while others say that defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau‘s schemes are worn out and ineffective. Regardless of what the general public believes, the Steelers’ organization has always been supportive of Lebeau and stood behind him as the leader of the defense that has become so synonymous with the Steelers team.
That all changed recently. When the Steelers were asked about Lebeau’s future, they simply said that had no comment on the defensive coordinator’s future with the team. Reading that, I was shocked. Such a change in demeanor and response doesn’t happen often in Pittsburgh, at least not within the football organization.
It doesn’t help that Lebeau’s defense is so far below the line of expectation that Steelers fans are accustomed to seeing. The most frightening aspect of the team that usually completely shuts down opponent’s running games is that they are being gashed by the run by the most ordinary of opponents. Does everyone remember when the Steelers would go almost an entire season without allowing a 100-yard rusher? There were times they would string together five to six games without letting opponents garner 100 yards combined. Today’s Steelers defense allows 100-yard rushers like it is their job to do so. The defense is averaging 115 yards rushing per game which leaves them 19th in the NFL in that statistic.
For the second-straight year, the Steelers have ranked well against the pass, which is completely opposite from those classic Steeler teams of the past. In the days of Dwayne Washington and Chad Scott, it was through the air that teams defeated the Steelers, now its on the ground. The Steelers are averaging 222 yards through the air per game, which leaves them eighth in the NFL in pass defense. Not too bad, but is it enough to keep Lebeau on the staff for another year?
The Steelers are ranked 11th in defense overall in the NFL, and that is a ranking that hasn’t been that low in nearly a decade. Is it time for change on the defensive side of the football, and starting with the coordinator? If so, who is brought in to replace the Hall of Famer? Some point to Keith Butler, the current linebackers coach, while others clamor for an outsider to bring in a fresh new feel to a defensive scheme that now seems overused and outdated.
One thing that remains unchanged is the players’ love and dedication to their coach. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Lamarr Woodley, Ryan Clark and every other defensive player to the man say they don’t want to play for anyone other than Lebeau. Those are words that the organization needs to keep in mind when making a decision on their defensive coordinator.
I have always said this and still stand by my words: Dick Lebeau has earned the right to walk away on his own terms. If this is his final year, then it should be because he decided that it was. As a coordinator, Lebeau is not the one out there intercepting the ball and tackling. The majority of the blame for the defense’s short comings should fall on the players, not the coach, but when the Steelers don’t comment on his future, the writing might be on the wall that Lebeau’s departure is evident and in the near future.