The Cincinnati Bengals gave up a bunch of points Sunday and the Cleveland Browns gave up a bunch too but still earned their first victory of the season. The Baltimore Ravens continue to prove they can win all types of games yet gave up over 400 yards of offense including over 200 on the ground.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have blown two fourth quarter leads this season and have given up 31, 34 and 26 points in their three losses. The sudden demise of the AFC North’s powerful defenses is perhaps shocking, but there were cracks in the armor long before the 2012 season got underway.
I saw several tweets Sunday by fans and more interestingly, from Steelers’ beat reporters that suggested maybe the Steelers aren’t unique or maybe they aren’t alone in playing bad defense. To that I can only agree partially. Yes, the Steelers and Ravens are dealing with age and now injuries while Cleveland has declined in part due to injuries and the suspension of corner Joe Haden. The Bengals are just not playing good defense period and can’t blame it on age. These are all facts and these are also four teams that ranked in the top 10 in total defense last year.
So what has happened and is this unique to them or just the Steelers? It’s a question that I can really only address from a ‘Steelers point of view’ because that is my focus. I also believe the league in general is suffering a similar fate for a very obvious reason; the Commissioner is finally making an impact.
With the constant threat of heavy fines and suspensions, guys are all too willing to pull up on hits and tackle using even worse technique than before. If you saw James Harrison pull up on Michael Vick twice in the Steelers’ win over Philly then you know what I’m talking about. Aggression and violence are being taken from the game and it’s leading to horrible tackling which means more offense. Exactly what the league wants.
If you’re a college football fan then you know similar fates have befallen many schools across the country. Ohio State recently scored 63 on Nebraska and then needed 52 to beat Indiana by three! Defensive coordinators at the college and pro level are not getting dumber and they aren’t failing to recognize how to attack offenses. They are being hindered by the assault on playing physical, aggressive football and teams now have less contact in practice than ever before.
If you saw the tackling in the Texas-Oklahoma game this past Saturday then you have a glimpse of the NFL’s future. Defenders now are using ‘shoulder-shrugs’ and ‘low dives’ in an attempt to tackle the ball carrier. The idea of calling attention to ‘player safety’ was to also teach proper tackling fundamentals but apparently that has gone out the window as well.
For the Steelers, it goes farther than that though in terms of why they are not playing well defensively. If you look at the other three teams in the division, they might be struggling defensively as well, but they still make a few ‘splash’ plays each game. That means turnover creation, scoring on defense and getting sacks and tackles for loss. The Steelers’ two interceptions ranks dead last in the NFL.
I’ve harped on scheme and personnel for several weeks now so you already know my feelings on that, but when you take a guy like Troy Polamalu and a guy like LaMarr Woodley off the defense you’re taking away guys that have made splash plays in the past. It hurts regardless of how well they may or not have been playing prior to their injuries.
Fact of the matter is that if the Steelers’ defense can’t create more turnovers then that means more pressure on the offense. Creating turnovers would be a start for a defense that is in serious trouble. You might not totally agree, but at least someone would be getting defensive.