On the Steelers: Defense has problems, and predictability is one of them
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's not so much that the Steelers defense is old and slow, now they are predictable?
Some Oakland Raiders made that claim Sunday, including wide receiver Derek Hagan, who credited quarterback Carson Palmer for diagramming Dick LeBeau's defense for his teammates and then picking it apart.
"They pretty much did the same thing that they did six, seven years ago when he was playing with Cincinnati," Hagan said of the former Bengals quarterback. "Obviously, they've got a legendary D-coordinator over there. He's been running certain things that other teams have seen, that we've seen. We knew their tendencies and we were able to hit them with some big plays when it really counted."
Predictable? Guilty as charged said Steelers safety Ryan Clark.
"Sometimes, when you speed up the offense, you can call the same plays and kind of get stuck in the same plays," Clark said of defending Oakland's no-huddle offense Sunday.
"We really haven't been that hard to figure out the last seven years I've been here. We've been running the same things, we call the same things. It's not about being predictable, it's about executing.
"Coach LeBeau puts us in a call, we have to execute the right way. It doesn't matter if you know what we're doing if you can stop it."
Here are the adjustments Clark suggests:
"That's what we have to get back to doing, no matter what the call is, the guys across from us, kicking his butt and getting to the ball."
That defense usually becomes a little less predictable when a healthy Troy Polamalu and James Harrison join it, which is what both did Tuesday in practice. Harrison missed the first three regular-season games with his bothersome knee, and Polamalu missed the past two with a calf injury. Polamalu intends to play when the Steelers face Philadelphia at home Oct. 7 after their off week. Harrison's participation will depend, again, on how his knee responds between now and then.
"It'll help," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "Those are key guys back, that definitely makes a big difference on this defense. So having them back would definitely be great for this defense."
Perhaps surprisingly, that defense ranks among the best in the NFL in yards allowed. It ranks fifth against the pass (190.3 yards permitted per game) and seventh overall (291.3) in a league that leans more and more to offense.
Still, it's not what the Steelers are accustomed to doing. They finished first in the NFL last season in fewest yards allowed, passing yards allowed and points allowed. Yet they have continued another trend from 2011 in that they are also producing fewer turnovers and sacks.
Woodley has two of his team's five sacks, which are tied for 22nd in the NFL. They have produced only two turnovers, and their three as a team (one fumble recovery on a muffed punt return) is tied for 24th.
Last season, they managed a 21-year low of 35 sacks and 16 turnovers.
Forget their rankings, the Steelers realize they are not playing good defense.
"It stinks," Clark said of the way they've played. "It's not the way we play defense. It's not the way we train and work all week to come out and play. But coach LeBeau says sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.
"They scored a lot of points, and we didn't stop them. We can't point fingers at anybody, we have to use our thumbs and point them at ourselves and be better."
Said Woodley, "Even if we won the game on Sunday, we still played bad on defense."
Clark suggested it's not necessarily the "old" guys.
"I think what you lose, you lose chemistry sometimes when guys go out. We have to work together and fit together properly, that more than anything. It's not that guys aren't talented enough, we're not fitting the defense like coach LeBeau wants us to do."