PDA

View Full Version : On the Steelers: '11 defense makes no sense at all


mesaSteeler
01-01-2012, 09:54 AM
On the Steelers: '11 defense makes no sense at all
Sunday, January 01, 2012
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some of the great mysteries and dichotomies of the Steelers' 2011 season can be found in the play of their defense.

That defense has produced only 33 sacks and 14 turnovers. To compare, they had 48 sacks and 35 turnovers last season. Their four miserable fumble recoveries will set a new franchise low by far unless they gather more than double that today.

Yet this defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 2 in points allowed, but despite those rankings produced only one Pro Bowl player -- the perennial appearance of Troy Polamalu.

None of it adds up, even to some who play in that defense.

"I don't know how we've been doing it," said defensive captain James Farrior. "But it's definitely been a good thing for us that we have those good numbers because the other stuff is down this year. We don't have a finger on why it's down, but it is. We're just playing good football overall. Hopefully, the turnovers will come when we really need it."

The defenders don't worry much about the lower numbers in sacks, partly because they say opposing quarterbacks are releasing their passes more quickly. They do have concerns about how few turnovers they have managed.

No team in the league has fewer than their 14, although New Orleans also has only 14. Miami is the only team with fewer fumble recoveries (3).

Since 1966, when the Steelers could start finding records on such matters, they have never had fewer than nine fumble recoveries in a full season. It occurred in '68 and more recently in 2006 and '08. They had eight in '82, a season shortened by a strike to nine games.

For perspective, in a single game against Cleveland in 1990, the Steelers came up with eight fumble recoveries.

There is no explaining it.

"We have certainly talked about it," coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "For whatever reason, we didn't have that many this year, but we still have a lot of football left to play."

It's hard to argue with their success. After all, what's more important than a stingy defense when it comes to points? How about one that also scores some? One of those four fumble recoveries was crucial in a road victory this season. James Harrison sacked Indianapolis quarterback Curtis Painter, who fumbled, and Troy Polamalu picked up the loose ball and ran 16 yards for a touchdown that snapped a 13-13 tie with 5:13 left.

They could have used one or two more like that, safety Ryan Clark said.

"We've played good football. We've stopped teams. We just aren't getting turnovers," Clark said. "It's a weird deal. We're happy we're stopping teams, but I think we win one other game if we get a turnover."

Certainly one turnover could have affected two losses, 17-10 at Houston and 23-20 to Baltimore.

Splash plays about substance, too

Polamalu is the only Steelers defender to make the Pro Bowl, although others could be named later such as linebacker James Harrison, a first alternate.

Part of the reason might be the lack of those turnovers and so few sacks. It might be no coincidence that Polamalu's flashy play, including the one against the Colts, gets him on the highlights more often. Last season, defensive end Brett Keisel made the Pro Bowl after getting the call as the first alternate in a season in which he returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown at Tampa Bay.

Keisel is a third alternate this time, even though by many accounts he is having his best season, better than 2010. He has 36 quarterback pressures compared with 12 last season. He has the same number of sacks (3) but already has 10 more tackles at 45 with a game to go. He has eight pass deflections, several of which wound up as interceptions for others, compared with six last season. He also recovered a fumble, which he did not last season.

"Splash plays are what get guys in the Pro Bowl," Clark said.

You can't sack what you can't catch

The Steelers probably won't top last year's sack total of 48 -- "We are 16 behind and we are hoping to be catching it this week," LeBeau cracked.

If they do not get a few, those 33 sacks will represent their lowest output since they managed just 19 in 1988.

Several reasons are offered, including the combined absence in 10 games of their top two pass rushers -- outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley -- that will reach 11 today when Woodley does not play.

"I think the sacks kind of go along with the turnovers in a sense of, when James and La-Marr are getting to the quarterback, they create fumbles," Clark said.

Woodley, who had nine sacks after eight games before his hamstring went on the fritz, believes quarterbacks are more aware of the pass rush and design plays and pay more attention to throwing the ball more quickly to avoid it.

"They know the kind of pressure we bring so they've been doing a good job of getting rid of the ball," Woodley said. "It's not like teams have been holding the ball for 4, 5 seconds, allowing us to get back there.

"I don't care who you are, you could be the best pass rusher ever, you're not going to get a sack if the quarterback is holding the ball only 2-3 seconds."

Don't bet against Ward's return in 2012

Hines Ward is due $4 million in salary next season and if he plays here in 2012, he surely would return for an agreed-to Jerome Bettis-like reduction in pay and a reduced role in the offense, the latter which has already occurred.

This is a team that saved a roster spot through the Super Bowl for Aaron Smith last season rather than put him on injured reserve after his arm injury ended his season Oct. 24, 2010. They also brought Smith back this season. Plus, they'll have plenty of room for Ward after the Young Money trio on their receiving corps in 2012.

Jerricho Cotchery has to feel he can make more money and more receptions elsewhere rather than play as No. 4 here, and he will be an unrestricted free agent. That leaves ... no one, other than Ward and maybe practice squad player Tyler Grisham.

So if Ward does not catch those five passes today in Cleveland to become only the eighth receiver in NFL history to hit 1,000, he should get it next season.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12001/1200579-66-0.stm#ixzz1iDbc9eTs

sacredgrooves
01-01-2012, 03:36 PM
Given our record, and status as the number 1 defense, the fact that we are short on turnovers only makes it more impressive that were have been able to achieve those accolades and win so many games. That is the angle I am focusing on anyway lol.

ricardisimo
01-01-2012, 03:51 PM
Dave Bryan over at Steelers Depot had an excellent write up (http://www.steelersdepot.com/2011/12/dont-forsake-the-steelers-2011-defense-because-of-lack-of-turnovers-or-sacks/) on this, saying that although sacks and turnovers are signature big plays, the Steelers D as a whole has been dominant in not allowing big plays against them, which combined with the offense's plethora of big plays puts the Steelers at #1 in his ranking. It's a compelling argument, although the fact that Carolina is #2 while the Pats are sixth from last casts some doubt on his logic.

steeltheone
01-01-2012, 04:37 PM
I still think lack of playing big shot QB'S will hurt us in the playoffs

tanda10506
01-01-2012, 08:45 PM
I still think lack of playing big shot QB'S will hurt us in the playoffs

We played Brady, Schaub, and Flacco. The last two of those might not be excellent but they are pretty decent and those are the best qb's we can play in the playoffs.