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mesaSteeler
11-21-2010, 08:34 AM
Collier: Defense gives us a reason to worry
Sunday, November 21, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10325/1104903-150.stm

Watching Brett Keisel jogging on his recalcitrant hamstring toward the Steelers locker room after practice the other day, you'd never have suspected there was anything wrong, which is not something you could say about Pittsburgh's defense as a whole.

Or is it hole?

When you watch those guys, you know something's wrong. Something's pretty terribly wrong.

Right?

"I'm not concerned, no," said Keisel, trying desperately as we speak to give Mike Tomlin's team at least one of its starting defensive ends back. "But it'll be interesting to see how the defense reacts when you get punched in the mouth like we did last week."

The defense already had begun spitting out teeth anyway. Aaron Smith had long since gone to the sideline more-or-less permanently with a muscle tear, Keisel soon joined him, and now Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons have endured a week of limited practice.

The monitors in the recovery room are spitting too, spraying pejorative data in all directions.

This is a defense coming off a 29-point second half at the imperturbable direction of Tom Brady, coming off New England's 5-for-5 in the redzone (with three touchdowns), coming off a couple of 300-yard passing performances in the past three weeks.

In those three weeks, the Steelers have permitted seven touchdowns through the air. In the previous six weeks, they'd permitted only four.

"I think you always have to factor in who we were playing against," said cornerback Bryant McFadden. "You're talking about Drew Brees (sparking a 20-10 victory at New Orleans) and Tom Brady, and those guys were executing at a very high level.

"What we've got to do is go back to focusing on details."

But New England didn't just torch the place with Brady's fire. The Patriots became the first Steelers opponent this season to actually come close to running the ball at its customary output. They clawed out 103 ground yards, just four below their average, and as Bill Belichick said afterward, "We made them worry about it."

Worry might be a viable emotion for the matter at hand.

The most dangerous aspect of this afternoon's appointment has become the unspoken notion that the Oakland Raiders represent some kind of break in the headwind of talent that's ripped Pittsburgh's defensive reputation.

I wouldn't take much comfort in the giggly trivia that the Raiders are trying to win a fourth straight game today for the first time in eight years. That might be the big picture, but it's crazily out of focus. The Raiders of November 2010 are a much-improved version of the Raiders of December 2009, who scored three touchdowns in the final 8:21 to beat the Steelers, 24-21.

That means an encore engagement from mercurial wideout Louis Murphy, last seen in these parts racking up 128 yards and two touchdowns in that fourth quarter last Dec. 6. But this time, running back Darren McFadden arrives in Pittsburgh as the NFL's leading rusher, and the receiving corps includes one Jacoby Ford, the best player on the field two weeks ago when the Raiders clipped the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime to take over first place in the AFC West.

Raiders coach Tom Cable handed Ford the game ball minutes afterward, or long before NFL historians were even able to put his explosiveness into any kind of context. Ford, the rookie out of Clemson, had six catches for 148 yards when he wasn't piling up 158 yards returning kickoffs, one of which measured 94 yards and six points. On the way, Ford joined former Steeler Gary Ballman as the only players in league history to have at least 140 receiving yards to go with 150 or more kick return yards on one afternoon. Ballman did it at Washington five days before the Kennedy assassination.

The specter of a Raiders offense that averages 20 first downs, 361 yards and 26 points per game isn't exactly what Dick LeBeau's defense needs right now, but there are some coping mechanisms and they're not all that mysterious.

A sack, for example, would be nice.

There were none against New England.

A turnover, for another, would be nifty.

There were none against New England as Pittsburgh's always favorable turnover ratio has been inverted in the past month. The Steelers were a plus 9 for five weeks, a minus 1 for the last four.

A return to the lineup of a healthy Keisel might also prove beneficial.

"I don't know," Keisel said when asked pointedly. "I'm going to try, but we don't want it to go backwards. We have to go forward."

There was little sense of urgency in the big guy's voice, maybe because, as he insists, he's not concerned yet.

"If for some reason we don't play well, then, yeah, concern will set it," he said. "But I have faith in these guys."

Ya gotta have faith, but a lot of times, a strip sack is better.


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