At what point do we start to finally question the seemingly ‘unquestionable?’ For whatever reason, Dick LeBeau has always gotten a free pass from most Steelers’ fans and I think a lot of it has to do with his legendary status and great track record. Unfortunately, the history doesn’t mean anything because this is about now and right now this defense is no longer a ‘bend don’t break’ defense because it’s breaking significantly.
I know, typical knee-jerk overreaction after just game one right? Wrong. This dates back years and I’ve rehashed them more times than I care to think about, but the LeBeau defense gives up leads and it’s that simple. They’ve done it in the regular season. They’ve done it in the playoffs and they’ve done it in the Super Bowl (See SB XLIII). While last night wasn’t about giving up a lead necessarily, it was about in-game adjustments and just flat-out getting beat by a QB that has picked him apart throughout his career. Peyton Manning is now 7-1 lifetime against LeBeau.
Would James Harrison and Ryan Clark have made a difference Sunday night? Yes, they absolutley would have but would they have changed the outcome of the game? I doubt it. Other than the first few series of the game, the defense looked slow with some exceptions, and seemed to never be able to catch their breath. This was especially true once the Broncos went to the no-huddle.
Where was Brett Keisel Sunday night? Did Steve McLendon even play last evening? Ziggy Hood? The defensive line in the 3-4 isn’t by nature supposed to get much attention, but these guys along with Cam Heyward and Casey Hampton were absolutely invisible last night. They were far from active enough to get pressure on Manning and they were gashed frequently in key situations eventually giving up 95 yards rushing. Might not sound like a lot but considering how little the Denver offense was on the field, it makes it that much more disturbing.
I mentioned the Steelers came out and looked pretty decent prior to Manning going to the no-huddle and the one crucial element that suddenly went missing was the blitz. It was there in the first half and that’s how you get to and rattle Manning. As soon as the no-huddle started, the defense lost its’ aggressiveness and started sitting back while Manning picked it apart. Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen were unable to stay with their men frequently and Allen especially was turned around several times by the veteran Brandon Stokely. This area must get better and quickly.
This isn’t ‘Blitzburgh’ or ‘The Big Nasty D’ anymore either. You don’t sit back and let Peyton Manning or any other QB for that matter pick you apart and call yourself anything related to those monikers. I could easily point to the fact this team has lost a lot of its’ swagger and it seems to have happened around the time Commissioner Roger Goodell started to hit them with more fines than Bernie Madoff received. That isn’t and can’t be an excuse however.
LeBeau has lost his creativity and abilty to change on the fly. For the man who is known as the father of the zone blitz to have relegated himself and the team to this vanilla that we’ve seen developing the last few years is sad. Again, is personnel and injury a part of that equation? Absolutely it is, but that doesn’t mean you just give up your identity. I’d rather go down swinging with what I’ve built my reputation on then this slow, methodical death we are feeling now.