LeBeau has trust in system
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
PITTSBURGH – The statistics show the Steelers defense is ranked seventh in the NFL and is one of only seven teams not allowing more than 300 yards per game.
But statistics can lie.
The most important ones, points allowed and wins, tell the true story of what Pittsburgh’s defense has done it its first three games.
Despite its ranking in yards against, the Steelers have given up 75 points. That has added up to a 1-2 start – including a 34-31 loss last weekend at Oakland – and perplexed defensive coordinator Dick Le-Beau.
“The big problem for us has been big plays,” said Le-Beau. “In both of our losses, we gave up two big plays. We can’t have those. It doesn’t matter who is out there. We can’t have that happen. We didn’t get off the field in the second half at Oakland. They got too many cracks, and they got the football in there. We have to tighten down and get off the field. In both second halves in the games we lost, we weren’t very good. We have to be able to finish those football games. If our offense puts up 31 points, that should be good enough to win the game. We got some work to do.”
In their two losses, both on the road, the Steelers have shut down Denver and Oakland in the first half, only to watch them march up and down the field in the second half to pull out wins. In nine opposing second half drives on the road, the Steelers have given up points eight times and haven’t forced a punt.
In their only victory, a 27-10 win over the Jets at Heinz Field, the Steelers held New York scoreless in the second half.
“That’s something we have to address,” LeBeau said. “Statistically, it’s right there. We finished the Jets game. That’s our only win. If we finished the other two games, we would probably have three wins. We are all aware of the problems, and we are working on the corrections.”
One of the issues has been some players trying to do too much when things start going downhill. Instead of simply playing the defense as called and trusting teammates to do their job, they try to make every tackle.
“If a team is moving the ball just a little bit, they want to do a little bit more to stop them,” LeBeau said. “That’s a good problem to have. But it is a problem nonetheless. We can’t do that. We have to trust the defense, trust the teammate, focus and play.”
What LeBeau hasn’t lost trust in is his players or defensive scheme, which has finished first in the NFL in total defense in each of the past two seasons.
This, despite that fact that some of the Raiders said following their victory that the Pittsburgh defense was too predictable.
“I always look to myself first, and I hope they do, too,” LeBeau said. “When things aren’t where you want them to be, something has to be done differently. We are working on that. I believe in these guys, and I believe in what we are doing. When people are making more plays than us, it looks like they have us figured out. When they aren’t, it looks like they didn’t figure us out. It comes down to how we play and how we execute. The coach is involved in this, too. I have to give them things they can execute.”
Something that could help will be the return of All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu when the Steelers come out of their bye week. Polamalu has missed the past two games with a calf strain, but practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and appears to be on track to play Oct. 7 against Philadelphia.
Linebacker James Harrison, another All-Pro, also could return after sitting out the first three games following an August knee surgery. Harrison practiced Tuesday, but sat out Wednesday. He remains optimistic he will be back soon.
The return of both of those players would be a boost for the struggling defense.
“We were just the No. 1 defense in the league last year,” said linebacker Larry Foote. “And this year, we’re seventh. I don’t know how that’s happened, but we’re right where we need to be (statistically). If we go out and win five games in a row and shut some of those teams out, we’ll be right back where we usually are.”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers will not return to practice until Monday. ... After the bye, the Steelers play three of their next five games against teams from the NFC East.