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August 16th, 2014, 7:30pmET

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Old 02-16-2014, 10:52 AM   #1
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Default Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

This article in today's P-G reads like an autopsy

Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall


The Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks created more turnovers than any other team in the NFL last season, and they were particularly adept at intercepting passes. In 19 games, 16 regular-season and three playoff contests, they had 32.

Once among the best in the league at creating turnovers, the Steelers are now the antithesis of the Seahawks. Nothing drives that fact home more than this sobering statistic: In the past three seasons combined, the Steelers have 31 interceptions.

If this were the only problem in the secondary, the Steelers might have been able to overcome it. But there were other issues at hand. In addition to lacking playmakers who could take the ball away, the Steelers compounded their defensive issues by surrendering an inordinate number of big plays last season.

This drove defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau batty because the basic principle behind his defensive scheme is to limit big plays. Under LeBeau, the Steelers have dared opponents to drive the length of the field against them. When teams scored against the Steelers, they had to earn it.

Teams didn't have to work nearly as hard to score against the Steelers in 2013 and one of the more surprising things was who was exposing them for the big plays. It was one thing for New England's Tom Brady to dissect the Steelers to the tune of 55 points and 610 total yards, but some decidedly less-talented quarterbacks found ways to beat the Steelers, too. They included Jake Locker, Matt Cassell, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Tannehill.

Some, like Pryor and Tannehill, did more damage running than passing, but there was a time when the Steelers devoured subpar quarterbacks no matter what their skill set. That no longer is the case.

Even in victory there were struggles. Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden of the Browns managed to combine for 312 passing yards in a game in Cleveland in November. Matthew Stafford of the Lions threw for 362 yards.

But the inability to take the ball away is the most glaring issue. The Steelers had 10 interceptions last season. They had 10 in 2012 and 11 in 2011, when they made the playoffs after going 12-4 during the regular season. The 2011 Steelers were masters at not allowing big plays, however.

The 2013 Steelers did neither, and it's one of the biggest reasons they failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.

Some of the inefficient play in the defensive backfield can be traced to last offseason when the Steelers failed to sign free agent cornerback Keenan Lewis, who left the team that drafted him for his hometown New Orleans Saints. Lewis was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL last season. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 68 times by opposing quarterbacks and allowed just 466 yards and three touchdowns. He intercepted four passes.

By contrast, the player the Steelers elected to keep over Lewis had one of the worst seasons of his distinguished career. Veteran Ike Taylor was targeted 113 times and gave up 71 receptions and 1,043 yards, the most by any cornerback in the NFL. Taylor allowed six touchdowns while in coverage and did not have an interception.


To demonstrate how much Taylor was targeted by opposing teams and how much success they had against him, consider this: he gave up 71 more yards than any other cornerback in the NFL and only two cornerbacks in the NFL were targeted more.

The Steelers have to make a decision on Taylor, who turns 34 in May. According to overthecap.com, he is an $11.9 million cap hit if he is on the roster next season, but the Steelers can save $7 million -- his 2014 salary -- by releasing him.

If the Steelers made a mistake in their decision to keep Taylor over Lewis, give them credit for re-signing William Gay, who might have had the best season of his seven-year career. Gay was a part-time starter and excelled covering slot receivers. He also was good in run support.

Cortez Allen had knee and ankle injuries that retarded his progress early in the season, and he lost his starting job for a time. But the Steelers are high on Allen.

One reason they are hopeful is his nose for the ball. He had two interceptions, including one for a touchdown against Green Bay. Still, Steelers cornerbacks combined for three interceptions, or one fewer than Lewis had with the Saints.

At safety, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu remained formidable run-stoppers, but they were not as strong as previous years in coverage. Clark, 34, is a free agent and is not expected to re-sign. Polamalu, who will turn 33 in April, had a strong bounce-back season after an injury-riddled 2012 campaign.

Some of the big-play ability that defined Polamalu early in his career returned in spurts. He had two interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and he forced five fumbles.

Polamalu had some problems in pass coverage, especially against bigger receivers. And, because of other issues on defense, he was utilized more like a linebacker than a safety for much of last season in packages when the Steelers employed six defensive backs.

Polamalu, who is a $10.8 cap hit next season, is playing out the final year of his contract. The Steelers could save $8 million by releasing him, but that seems unlikely in the wake of team president Art Rooney II's comments after the season when he said it's his goal to have Polamalu retire as a Steeler.

The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last season and figure to address the position again in the draft or free agency. Thomas served as Polamalu's backup last season. He played in some nickel and dime packages early in the season, but his playing time decreased later in the season because veteran Will Allen was playing so well.

Allen was added to the roster in early October after Dallas released him. Like Clark, he is a free agent in March.

Clark's backup was second-year undrafted free agent Robert Golden, who was primarily a special teams player.

Golden only played 51 defensive snaps, with one coming after September.


http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/s...s/201402160065

Hindsight is 20/20 with regard to personnel decisions that currently are killing the Steelers' ability to rebuild the defense

The big contract to Woodely has been a disaster. But at the time I was all for it and Woodley was in the running for DPOY until he injured his hamstring in the 2011 Patriots game - he has never been the same player since that injury

OTOH I have no clue why Ike Taylor was kept and Keenan Lewis was allowed to walk unless Lewis said don't waste your time to sign him since it was his dream to play for the Saints
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Old 02-16-2014, 10:59 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

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By contrast, the player the Steelers elected to keep over Lewis had one of the worst seasons of his distinguished career. Veteran Ike Taylor was targeted 113 times and gave up 71 receptions and 1,043 yards, the most by any cornerback in the NFL. Taylor allowed six touchdowns while in coverage and did not have an interception.
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Old 02-16-2014, 11:51 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

It wasn't an either or scenario. They could have kept Lewis and like for this past season, and then let Mike go this year. Could've, should've, would've. I'm pretty sure Lewusbwas content with going home, which has beenxdiscussed and quoted many times here.
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Old 02-16-2014, 01:24 PM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

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It wasn't an either or scenario. They could have kept Lewis and like for this past season, and then let Mike go this year. Could've, should've, would've. I'm pretty sure Lewusbwas content with going home, which has beenxdiscussed and quoted many times here.
I don't buy this. I think the whole "he wanted to go home" is a cop out answer for a flawed player philosophy. Ike Taylor wasn't ever worth the money we gave to him. Those numbers are flat out ridiculous for a Corner on this team whose upcoming cap hit is over 11 million dollars. Our secondary isn't going to improve until we see guys like Ike pushed out. We really, really can't afford to keep a mediocre Corner on this team in anything more than our Nickle.

At this point, is Will Gay really that much worse than a slowed down, mediocre Ike Taylor?
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Old 02-16-2014, 02:03 PM   #5
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

And yet some still seem to think Ike should be retained next year.
Even if he agrees to a pay cut.
Thats like going to the butcher and telling him you'll pay him half for spoiled meat.
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Old 02-16-2014, 03:25 PM   #6
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

They could definitely use an infusion of talent in the secondary. Time for some youth with speed and playmaking ability to drastically improve the defense.

I'll be surprised if they don't take two secondary players in their first 4-5 picks.
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Old 02-16-2014, 03:33 PM   #7
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

Hopefully they go CB with their first draft.
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Old 02-16-2014, 03:44 PM   #8
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

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Hopefully they go CB with their first draft.
After reading the article and believing my own eyes, if we don't go CB with pick #1 and add secondary depth with later picks there should be an investigation.
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Old 02-16-2014, 04:37 PM   #9
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

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After reading the article and believing my own eyes, if we don't go CB with pick #1 and add secondary depth with later picks there should be an investigation.
Depends on who's there. While very unlikely, Dennard and Gilbert may both be gone at 15th overall. Again, unlikely, but possible. In that case, avoid CB until the third/fourth round. If either of those guys is on the board though, it's gotta be one of them and with the pipeline to MSU that we have, it'll likely be Dennard. He just plays like a Steeler.
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Old 02-16-2014, 05:05 PM   #10
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Default Re: Steelers Sunday / The secondary: A long, hard fall

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I don't buy this. I think the whole "he wanted to go home" is a cop out answer for a flawed player philosophy. Ike Taylor wasn't ever worth the money we gave to him.
Agreed Lewis wanted to leave looks like a cover story

Steelers were not going to pay to keep both Lewis and Taylor for the same reason they are not going to keep both Woodley and Worilds - their strategy is not to collectively sink too many dollars into any position other than QB, where you are stuck paying top $ for a top shelf QB. And they were reluctant to pay Lewis without a longer track record as a starter (although they are now probably going to pay Worilds)

Props to Gerry Dulac of the P-G for saying Lewis should stay and Ike should go 11 months ago

Question from my weekly chat: Have the #Steelers spoken with Keenan Lewis? My answer....

I'm sure they have. I think the Steelers want to re-sign Lewis, but I also think they believe he is going to test the free agent market and that some team will overpay and make him a big offer -- an offer the Steelers won't match. Plus, the Steelers are comfortable knowing they have Cortez Allen behind Lewis.
It's too bad. I think the Steelers needed to see one more good year out of Lewis before they would give him a big contract. He's a good young player and it will be too bad if he is not re-signed. Personally, if you have to make tough financial decisions, I'd rather see them get rid of Ike Taylor and keep Lewis and Allen.


http://sulia.com/channel/pittsburgh-...-bfd990515b89/
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