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mesaSteeler
11-30-2010, 06:17 AM
Harris: Age taking toll on Steelers defense
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_711477.html?_s_icmp=NetworkHeadlines
By John Harris
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They say football is a young man's game. The Steelers say otherwise.

The NFL's No. 5 ranked defense is also one of the oldest.

At the start of the season, seven members of the Steelers' defense were 30 or older. It was wishful thinking to expect all seven to make it through the year intact.

Starting defensive end Aaron Smith, 34, has missed five games with a triceps injury. He is expected to return this season. It isn't a good sign that Smith missed 11 games last season with a torn rotator cuff, after missing the final three regular-season games and a playoff game in 2007 with a torn biceps. That's a troubling trifecta. Smith earns his living with his arms and shoulders.

Smith's level of play is exceptional -- when he plays.

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel, 32, has missed five games with hamstring and calf injuries. He is expected to return this season, even sooner than Smith. Keisel was expected to play against Buffalo after missing two games with a hamstring injury. However, those plans changed when he woke up Saturday experiencing discomfort in his calf. Keisel's latest injury isn't considered as serious as Smith's, but both players have missed a total of 10 starts this season. That's a lot of games to be without your starting defensive ends.

Still, the Steelers continue to lead the league in rushing defense, thanks to defensive end replacements Nick Eason, 30, and Ziggy Hood, 23.

"They're both playing well," said inside linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior, 35. "They're getting better every week, getting more comfortable every game."

Eason suffered a knee injury against Buffalo and could miss Sunday night's AFC North showdown at Baltimore. Nose tackle Chris Hoke, 34, who also plays end, could slide over and start for Eason, who's starting for Keisel.

The standard may be the standard, but the Steelers are living dangerously believing they can continue getting away with gambling on their stable of over-30 defensive linemen without injuries becoming a factor.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell is fiercely loyal to his players. He coaches them, gives them plenty of respect, and they respect him right back.

Mitchell is protective when asked about the age of his linemen. He said Smith sitting out most of last season wasn't due to him getting older, but an unfortunate situation. I respectfully disagree.

Injuries, age, and wear and tear have taken a toll on Smith, who excels in taking on two blockers at a time. His body can only absorb so much pounding before giving out.

The front office should have seen this coming. To their credit, the Steelers drafted Hood in the first round of the 2009 draft. That's a start. But more young bodies are needed.

A quiet transition is occurring at nose tackle, where Hoke is receiving an increasing number of snaps at Casey Hampton's expense. Hampton started the Buffalo game on the sideline as the Steelers lined up in their dime defense, which features two linemen and six defensive backs, on Buffalo's first offensive play. Hood also lined up at nose tackle occasionally.

The Steelers signed Hampton to a three-year, $21 million extension with $11 million guaranteed in February. That's a lot of money for a part-time player, especially one who has started every game he's played in since his rookie season. This move can't be about age. Hampton, 33, is a year younger than Hoke.

Young or old, the Steelers must upgrade their situational pass rush. Statistically, the Steelers are doing fine. They're tied for second in the league with 32 sacks, but where was the rush when Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had enough time to drop back and eat a five-course meal while waiting for wide receiver Steve Johnson to complete a difficult "Z" route in the end zone? Johnson dropped the potential game-winner in overtime.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau blitzed cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay to beef up the rush. Still, Fitzpatrick was sacked only twice in 45 pass attempts.

Truth be told, the Steelers defensive line has ranked among the league's best for a long time. This year has been no different -- older is in. The future can wait, because the future is now.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

grward
11-30-2010, 10:56 AM
Why doesn't anyone take into consideration the first year or two that a defensive player sits on the sideline learning LeBeau's complex schemes? IMHO, this will extend a player's playing time. Their biological age may be in the 30's, but accounting for the time on the field isn't it more like they are in their late 20's for some of these guys? When Timmons is in his 30's will anyone remember that he barely played during his first two seasons?

steeltheone
11-30-2010, 11:09 AM
Why doesn't anyone take into consideration the first year or two that a defensive player sits on the sideline learning LeBeau's complex schemes? IMHO, this will extend a player's playing time. Their biological age may be in the 30's, but accounting for the time on the field isn't it more like they are in their late 20's for some of these guys? When Timmons is in his 30's will anyone remember that he barely played during his first two seasons?

To say the Steelers D is that much harder than any other team is a bunch of crap. They just don't do a good job of getting players ready. Pouncey would not have started this year if the front office would not have made an issue about young players not developing over the summer.

tony hipchest
11-30-2010, 11:33 AM
pouncey is an exception to the rule. he was probably the most nfl ready player (other than suh) in last years draft.

steelers do fine in developing young players. most fans just expect all young players to be developed into pro bowlers within 1 season. our defenders naturally take longer to bring along.

while a billy goat can learn arians offense, lebeaus system is much more complex than most other defenses and always changing.

steelax04
11-30-2010, 11:53 AM
while a billy goat can learn arians offense, lebeaus system is much more complex than most other defenses and always changing.

Only if it's this goat

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtBirwSpLJY

ZoneBlitzer
12-01-2010, 10:22 AM
Why doesn't anyone take into consideration the first year or two that a defensive player sits on the sideline learning LeBeau's complex schemes? IMHO, this will extend a player's playing time. Their biological age may be in the 30's, but accounting for the time on the field isn't it more like they are in their late 20's for some of these guys? When Timmons is in his 30's will anyone remember that he barely played during his first two seasons?

It's not the years, it's the mileage, right?

TRH
12-01-2010, 10:55 AM
regardless, we're still up there in age...

bobby jr
12-01-2010, 05:55 PM
I mentioned this at the beginning of the year. The Steelers have one of the oldest defenses in the NFL and it is not likely that they will get better as the year goes on. Indeed they are no longer #1 as they were much of the season.
The Ravens defense on the other hand seems to be getting stronger as the year goes on.

BigRick
12-01-2010, 11:38 PM
regardless, we're still up there in age...

Old age and treachery will overcome youth and exuberance anytime! :rofl:

pitt0wns
12-01-2010, 11:56 PM
I totally agree our defense is getting OLD and needs an overhaul.