If you’re looking for the Steeler defense, please let me know where you find them because clearly they were MIA on Sunday afternoon in Oakland. There are many words you can use to describe this unit, but good isn’t one of them right now unfortunately.
Despite an overall great day through the air for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, the vaunted Steeler Defense couldn’t overcome a 2nd half rally by the Raiders, and will enter their bye week with many questions that don’t exactly have such easy answers. Marc Uhlmann will be covering the offense on Monday but for now let’s focus on the epic collapse of the defense.
The Steelers entered this game again without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, but facing a 0-2 Raiders team that was banged up at wide receiver even before the game started, you thought they could have a pretty nice outing. Perhaps Blitzburgh would return, or the Big Nasty D, but ultimately it ended up being nothing more than a shadow of those former great units. Credit the Carson Palmer and the Raiders for fighting through adversity and finding a way to pick apart the Dick Lebeau’s defense though, they wanted it more. Credit also the Steelers for shooting themselves in the foot with ill-timed penalties, poor coverage, and no pressure. Not that I’m bitter or anything but facts are facts. The Defense gave Oakland a short field on 2 scoring drives and allowed Darren McFadden to race 64 yds early on.
Palmer is not exactly known as a mobile Quarterback, he never was even before Kimo Von Olehoffen greeted him back in Cincinnati all those years ago. Having said that, they only managed 1 sack, by Lamarr Woodley after Larry Foote flushed out Palmer. The Raiders did a good job of adjusting their blocking schemes, and the Steelers did a poor job adjusting theirs. There were times when Lebeau did send pressure to try and disrupt the Raiders rhythm but all too often the secondary was unable to stick and stay, worse yet allowing gaping holes in the middle of the field.
Speaking of the secondary, it wasn’t that they gave up huge passing yards but their mistakes came at the worst possible time. Carson Palmer finished 24/34 209 yds, 3 Touchdowns and the one Interception. If it wasn’t a Keenan Lewis pass interference penalty, it was Cortez Allen losing his man and having to hold to recover. If it wasn’t Ryan Mundy getting turned around on a legal pick play, it was everyone else leaving the flat wide open for Palmer to pick his target. And if that wasn’t bad enough it was everyone not tackling the ball and getting outrun in a track meet all too often.
When the Steeler secondary is having a rough day the first thing you look at other than those players themselves, is the pass rush. The problem was that there wasn’t one today. Palmer did his own Ben Roethlisberger impression by extending plays and finding his receivers after the coverage broke down. The lack of James Harrison’s presence was felt again as Chris Carter and Lamarr Woodley were routinely either run out of the play or just got there a step too late.
Dick Lebeau tried his now usual rotation of both Jason Worilds and Carter but neither was able to make an impact in mostly man to man combat with the Raiders Offensive Line. Lamarr Woodley didn’t fare much better either, registering 4 Tackles and the 1 Sack as one of the few highlights on the day.
Whether or not you think the return of Polamalu and Harrison will help this unit can be debated all day long. The fact is that Harrison is a big playmaker as is Troy, so maybe things are different? No matter which side of the fence you are on, getting those two guys back will be huge but it’s not the end all be all for the problems facing what we once knew as Blitzburgh.
If there was a highlight, or lowlight depending on how you want to look at it, was Ryan Mundy’s hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey in the 3rd quarter that ultimately sent the Raiders receiver off the field on a cart. The officials did not call a flag on that one but Mundy can certainly expect a fax from the league later this week. It was reminiscent of the Steelers defense of old, completely blowing up a receiver to ensure the ball falls incomplete. The pass was thrown a second too late by Palmer and Mundy went in, leading with his hands and looking for the chest but Heyward-Bey dropped his head and the two collided.
I hate to say it but maybe you thought that the defense would have been awakened after a big play like that, ultimately it did nothing but just prolong the game.
We just simply are not used to seeing a Steelers defense that doesn’t rise to the occasion like this. When the game is on the line you expect everyone to be singing Renegade in the huddle and somebody comes up with a big play. That is not your 2012 Steeler defense right now though folks. What they ultimately become remains to be seen, but I would expect some changes to happen during the bye week.
Photo courtesy of Steelers FanFeedr.