This week in a very nicely written column by Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark said the defense was “striving to be legendary.” I think I speak for all of the Steelers Nation when I say “legendary would be great.” Unfortunately, I don’t think this a defense that is in any position to be pushing for legendary status.
When last we left the men of ‘Coach Dad,’ we were bearing witness to our own donation to the rise of ‘Tebow-Mania’ as DeMaryius Thomas was scoring the game-winning touchdown in the AFC wild-card playoffs. What that play said to me was that the way you beat a Dick LeBeau-coached team is to make big plays. LeBeau’s defenses have always been built on the principle of bend, don’t break. Keep the play in front of you and let no one behind you ever. And that principle failed miserably in Denver.
This wasn’t the first time we had seen this either. Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a 92-yard drive that no one believed he could do and finished the Steelers’ chances of claiming the division title last season. Go as far back as Super Bowl XLIII when a 20-7 lead vanished in the fourth quarter before Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes saved the day.
What I need to see from this defense is aggression. I want to see attitude and want to see turnovers being created. I want to see blitzes from the middle, the corners and from the damn popcorn stand. I want to see pressure from the defensive linemen, the linebackers and the secondary. When I see these things happening then we can start talking about being legendary.
The Steelers have an All-Pro corner coming off one of his worst games of his career in Ike Taylor and a new starter opposite him regardless of who it may be. James Harrison is aging and hurting with no reliable back-up to speak of and Casey Hampton is quite literally on his last legs.
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark make up the oldest safety tandem in the league and what can we expect out of veterans Larry Foote and Brett Keisel? This is a defense that is coming off of a number one ranking, but admits that it really didn’t play like one.
The good news is that there is hope with the very same people I spoke of above. You can’t replace veteran leadership and there is plenty of it and at key positions. Foote will set defensive alignments and Clark and Polamalu the secondary. You probably wouldn’t want anyone else making such calls.
The fact is that this is all on Dick LeBeau. I respect the guy like crazy, but he must get this defense back to the aggressive force it was at one time. Certainly personnel has a lot to do with what LeBeau can and cannot do, but not being creative and not being aggressive should never be tolerated.
If this defense rises to the occasion and delivers knockout performances, creates big turnovers and scores points itself, then perhaps legendary is a proper term. Until that time, I’ll accept something as simple as opportunistic or ferorcious.