Monday, November 4, 2013

Latest Steelers Defensive Debacle May Beg For LeBeau's Job

"They handled us and they handled us well."  - head coach Mike Tomlin after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 55-31 loss to the New England Patriots.

Where do we begin?

The Steelers walked into Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. The Patriots ceremoniously cut that thread, dropping the once mighty Steelers to a lowly 2-6. It's almost too difficult breaking down this loss. Like Steelers announcer Bill Hillgrove said after the game, "Too many stats."

It's for that very reason that we're going to leave the majority of the actual breakdown to Bob Labriola so that we can focus on a broader problem. -

Something one scribe wrote in his article following the game was that the Steelers had "one of the top pass defenses statistically heading into the game." Well, it is Mark Twain who is credited with the quote,"There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics."

The poor performance we saw in last Sunday's 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders prove some numbers don't lie, though. Meaning, in that case, the numbers of missed sacks, missed tackles and the many missed assignments.

In retrospect, that was a virtuoso performance compared to what the Steelers defense tried to pass off as professional against the Patriots.

Jason Worilds had pity sacks (pun intended) and LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams got pressure only a few times, but none of it was enough. The Steelers did actually have several pressures, as helped by defensive ends Brett Keisel and Cam Heyward, but too few led to sacks managing only three for the game.

To say that their current effort simply isn't enough is an understatement. For a point of reference, the Kansas City Chiefs not only lead the NFL in sacks (36) and forced turnover (23) through nine games, but also in wins. In fact, their 9-0 record is, in large part, due to those sacks and turnovers.

That used to be the Steelers forte: a rock-hard, fearsome defense that punished quarterbacks and teams in general. They led the league or were top three in the league in sacks six times in the 10 years from 2001-2010:
2001 .................. 55
2002 .................. 50
2003 .................. 35
2004 .................. 41
2005 .................. 47
2006 .................. 39
2007 .................. 36
2008 .................. 51
2009 .................. 47
2010 .................. 48

That's the crux of this article, though. The defense isn't feared as it has been, nor does it cause the chaotic confusion it once did. A confusion that is supposed to be the driving force behind the 3-4 scheme defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau uses.

Last season, Raiders' quarterback made reference to the Steelers doing pretty much what they had done "six, seven years ago." Sunday against the Patriots, the Steelers had to blitz regularly just to get the amount of pressure alluded to earlier. And it may simply be time to make one very hard decision.

It may be time for Dick LeBeau to retire and allow new blood in at defensive coordinator.

Look, it hurts to even write that. LeBeau is tremendously respected and is one of the best all time at what he does. Few have achieved more in football than Dick LeBeau, as a player, as a coach and as a man. Who doesn't love Coach Dad?

Still, the evidence has been there over the last few years and it's a subject that needs to be addressed now.  The word "predictable" has now been used entirely too often in connection with Lebeau and his schemes. And while execution always trumps predictability, there is too much evidence to be ignored.

Let's look at Super Bowl 45 an example, where the Green Bay Packers exploited the Steelers  secondary all game. It could have been worse, also, as the Packers receivers dropped several balls, including a few that would have been big gains.

What was most bothersome, though, was after the Steelers had stormed back and made it a 28-25 ball game with just over seven minutes left, the defense gave up a huge clock killing field goal drive. The Steelers didn't get the ball back till the 2:07 mark. The defense just couldn't get off the field.

Just like they couldn't Sunday against the Patriots. And there have simply been too many situations where the defense does not show up when needed most, especially late in games.

Now with this last example being presented, it is clear that changes must be made. LeBeau had seemingly shown the ability to change his attack given the circumstances, as he did in the last New England Patriots game in 2011. Yet, his game plan was horrible, reverting back to previous years' performances.

Too much base defense, not enough bump coverage, barely any effective "quarters" coverage and great liabilities in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. All of this allowing quarterback Tom Brady, held to 118 passing yards the week before, to pass for 432 yards. His 151.4 QBR was nearly perfect.

The Patriots put up 610 yards total - 98 more yards than a LeBeau-coached or any Steelers' defense has ever allowed. The 55 points were the most ever allowed, also, by any Steelers' defense, with the previous high being 54 points set twice - in 1941 to the Packers and in 1985 to the San Diego Chargers.

"Probably as disappointed as I have been," Tomlin said after the game, "especially under the circumstances of how we were able to fight back there at the beginning of the second half. I am angry. We are capable and better than that. We've got to be better than that. We weren't, so we are going to fix it." -

The defense couldn't stop the pass, made rookie receivers look like seasoned veterans and, worst of all, they couldn't stop the run - they surrendered almost 200 yards on the ground. Worst of all, the last rushing touchdown scored by the Patriots was just the bully being bullied as LeGarrette Blount powered out of the arms of Ziggy Hood to score.

"For a long time here we've been tough because we've played great defense here", Keisel said. "We need to get back to that."

They were unprepared, outmatched and outclassed. In neither scheme nor adjustments were the Steelers successful. Like Clark said, the Patriots "were able to run it when they wanted to run it, which is an 11-man job, and they were also able to pass it when they wanted to pass it, which is an 11-man job....We were beat by a much better team."

That isn't merely a player-execution problem when it's as consistent as it has been for the Steelers. Like Tomlin said, they need to fix it. Well, there's a lot to fix.

And fixing it starts from the top of the defensive pyramid down.


TIDBITS: Injury report: CB Ike Taylor (concussion), ILB Vince Williams (concussion) RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle)

"I got rolled up on my bad ankle, but I'll be fine." ~ Gilbert