I feel like I’ve been in some form of twilight zone over the past week because I swear I’ve had the same conversation over and over. Perhaps the scariest part is that it wasn’t any twilight zone, it was reality and for every conversation I’ve had about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense it always ends the same way. This defense is just not that good right now.
We can blame the scheme or the injuries or the lack of depth or the disappearing act made by a couple of first rounders in Cam Heyward and Ziggy Hood all we want. Fact is, the defense needs a makeover worse than any aging Hollywood starlet ever did. Read the comments in stories at the Trib or Post-Gazette from players and former players over the last several days and they all say the same thing. “Things have been the same since I got here” or “It doesn’t matter who you put in the positions the defense remains the same.”
What is that thing they say about insanity? I love the arguments about how this defense annually ranks in the top three around the league but what do those rankings get you? Not a lot recently. An early, embarrassing exit last year from the playoffs? An opening day blowout loss to rival Baltimore? A failure to hold a lead against an Oakland team that scored as many points against us as they have in their other three games combined?
Oh jeez, I’m starting to sound like I did last week so I better look ahead…. One person who I conversed with about the defense brought up an interesting point about NFL defenses today. Are they still built for the long haul of a 16 game season or are they built specifically for each opponent on a week-to-week basis? The point was that the defense played poorly at Denver, much better against the Jets and then horrible against the Raiders. To me, that means adjustments on a game-by-game basis and this is an area where Dick LeBeau is failing.
LeBeau and Head Coach Mike Tomlin have had two weeks to gear up for Michael Vick and the Eagles who are now 3-1 after last night’s win over the New York Giants. The Eagles have arguably been as lucky as any team as they have won all three games by a total of four points combined. Personally, I could care less. The NFL is about winning and the Eagles are finding ways.
So just what can we expect from the Steelers this week when Philly comes to Heinz Field? For one, Troy Polamalu is scheduled to return to his safety position and Stevenson Sylvester could be available at linebacker if needed. The first thing the black ‘n gold have to do is gain the advantage on first down. The Eagles were struggling offensively last night against the G-men until they went back to their roots which is the short passing game of the West Coast offense. I fully expect to see more of that on Sunday.
With so many three-step drops, getting pressure will be hard. Will LeBeau dare to bring his corners up and jam receivers in order to throw off the timing? It’s not something he likes to do but the Steelers have seen some success with it especially against the short passing of the Patriots last season.
If the Steelers can win first down and force Vick and NOT LeSean McCoy to beat them then the Steelers will be in prime position to play better defensively. Forcing turnovers would be a welcome sight as well and the Eagles may be a prime partner to work with as they have 12 turnovers in four games, nine of them by Michael Vick. None of this really means anything unless this unit comes together though. The front seven has to do better at covering up the gaps and the holes that have been found with some frequency by opposing running backs.
The presence of Polamalu will help in the secondary purely from a standpoint of forcing Vick into poor decisions and poor reads. Polamalu is not without some criticism himself though as he has admitted he needs to take better angles at times so I think you’ll see him play a little more cautiously when making tackles and in pursuit.
If you are tuning in on Sunday expecting to see something entirely different from this unit then I suggest you wake up because it isn’t going to happen. Oh yes, you’ll see a team playing with more intensity and more enthusiasm but you aren’t going to see much more than that. The tiger that is Dick LeBeau doesn’t change his spots and you won’t see that happen here either. If something drastic like a new series of blitz packages or a new combination on the front line then please hit me because I want to make sure I’m not missing a new episode of the ‘Twilight Zone.’