Sunday, October 6, 2013

The 2013 Steelers Defense Is In Decline - Is It Salvageable?

After having endured the first four weeks of the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is having to contend with numbers they aren't exactly used to experiencing. They aren't in the top ten in total defense - they're No. 11 - they have already allowed six plays of 40 yards or more, they have only four sacks, and they're the only defense in the NFL with zero turnovers. 

These numbers have been a major reason for their also being 0-4 and fourth in the AFC North. But there is one number that may the least appealing of all: 29th in rushing defense. 

In a nearly unprecedented display, the Steelers have allowed each of the first four teams they've played to rush for 100 yards rushing or better against them.

"To put that into perspective, when the Steelers won the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, they allowed only five teams to rush for 100 yards in 16 regular-season games and three postseason contests. Even the 8-8 team last season allowed just four opponents to rush for 100 or more." (UPDATE: the article is wrong on the 2012 team allowing only four teams to rush for 100 yards, it actually happened five times) -

To put it in further perspective, using Dick LeBeau's first season as Steelers' defensive coordinator as a benchmark, from 1995 until 2012, the Steelers allowed just 34 individual 100-yard rushers in 309 total (regular and post-season) games over that period. That's just an 11% clip. 

Over that same period, they have also allowed just 108 teams (most of them expectedly being from the AFC North) to rush for 100 yards, or only 35% of the time. 

And the Steelers have the most post-merger seasons leading league in fewest rushing yards allowed with six. But, this season? One running back in four (25%) has run for 100 yards and all four teams have topped the century mark.

In that same 18-year stretch, they led the league or the AFC in sacks at least five times. Seven players have as many or more sacks than the entire Steelers' team has this season. As it stands, we may not see many sacks or turnovers until they get and maintain a lead. That said, poor tackling has been one big reason why they have been ridden bareback like this was a remake of "Brokeback Mountain." As one Steelers defender is well aware. 

"What is unique here, what we take for granted and what the media takes for granted is we have very good secondary tacklers. We make a lot of plays in space," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "It's been a big reason why we've been No. 1 in defense for so many years. Runs do break. Runs do get to the secondary, but we've always done a good job of getting people down. I think this year we've missed more than we're used to missing. We have to get guys on the ground, and we haven't done that."
Clark speaks the truth - the secondary, with he himself being a major culprit, has been porous this season. Head coach Mike Tomlin had them doing live tackling drills in training camp more than he ever has, but it has not seemed to help. 

There is no real excuse for the No. 1 defense in fewest yards allowed in both 2011 and 2012 to have fallen off so precipitously. But, it basically goes back to what If It Ain't Steel constantly preaches: execution. 

The problem is that the tool is only as good as its user - the deficiencies on defense are not nearly as much actually scheme related as they are a result of poor execution, not being fundamentally sound and having too few playmakers. Combine that with Father Time and you have a potential recipe for disaster. -

The thing about this is that most of it is able to be rectified. Though they can't turn back the hands of time, they can get back to fundamentals, playing their gaps and containing instead of getting caught watching the paint dry. Read, react and keep the feet moving. The Steelers know how to do this, LeBeau knows how to coach it and this is still the majority of the defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. 

The question is if they are able to do it.


TIDBITS: NFL fined DL Al Woods $7,875 for a grab of Adrian Peterson's face mask in the London Vikings game.