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DIESELMAN
08-17-2011, 10:35 PM
The Pittsburgh Steelers reached the Super Bowl last season, largely because of the play of an experienced defense. But as quickly as things can change in NFL, a strength can become a point of contention. Fast forward to 2011 and a defense that now features nine players over the age of 30 in the rotation (see box), which begs the question, is the unit too old to compete at a high level?

30-Something Steelers Regulars On Defense
Name Position Age
James Farrior LB 36
Aaron Smith DE 35
Casey Hampton NT 33
James Harrison LB 33
Brett Keisel DE 32
Larry Foote LB 31
Ike Taylor DB 31
Ryan Clark DB 31
Troy Polamalu DB 30

In taking a closer look at the defense, however, the unit is no worse for the wear. They've ranked among the top five in total defense in six of the past seven seasons, a trend that will continue. Let me give you three reasons why:

1. Dick LeBeau's hallowed zone-blitz system is still effective. The 52-year veteran of the NFL (playing and coaching) has presided over several top defenses during his time as Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator, and his zone-blitz system has been a hallmark of the franchise since the 1990s. The continuity of running the same system over the years has allowed the team to identify, draft and develop players specifically for the scheme.

By relying on a homegrown model, the Steelers are able to develop players and build around their talents as they blossom. With nine starters originally drafted or signed as undrafted free agents, the players have grown up in the scheme and their mastery of the system allows them to play on instincts and awareness.

LeBeau also benefits from having the same core of players. He has a thorough understanding of their strengths and weaknesses as they age, and he's able to tailor parts of his game plan to accentuate their skills even at their advanced ages. With that knowledge, he can keep his players in a position to perform despite their diminishing skills.

2. The chemistry on defense will produce big results. The Steelers' cast of thirtysomethings have been in a ton of battles together. The kinship forged in those contests has developed a level of commitment, accountability and trust that results in outstanding play.

With experience serving as the game's greatest teacher, the defensive core has an invaluable understanding of their identity and how they must perform. That's comes across in their communication and willingness to call out teammates for failing to play up to the standard. It's also revealed in some of the big plays that come from relying on instincts. For instance, Troy Polamalu has picked off balls while freelancing in coverage, but it's Ryan Clark's ability to cover for him in the back end that allows it to happen. Their chemistry gives them the chance to improvise, something that's tough to do without a lot of time together.

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3. The Steelers are mixing young talent in with the veterans. Polamalu and James Harrison are the headliners, but it's the emergence of the young defenders that have kept the Steel Curtain intact. Lawrence Timmons (25) and LaMarr Woodley (26) have quietly ascended to the cusp of stardom, which has allowed the team to become less reliant on the veterans. Woodley, in particular, has 35.5 sacks over the past three seasons and is now one of the most dominant rushers in the game.

The team also has two young defensive linemen -- Cameron Heyward (22) and Ziggy Hood (24) -- who are starting to show a readiness for more. The team can slowly integrate them in the rotation to ensure aging stars are fresh for the stretch run of the season. Given the impact of health on a team's title chances, the clever utilization of youth gives the Steelers a chance to make another postseason run in 2011.



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Farrior Fan
08-17-2011, 10:52 PM
I really do wonder if 2-3 years from now if we will be a 5-11 team. With soooo many defensive players in the last years of their prime and our O line a constant question mark, I just fear that we will waste the last few years of Ben in his prime.

coldrolled
08-17-2011, 11:59 PM
let the young guys play more.... no one will learn crap standing on the sidelines watching the upcoming AARP club play every down.

SteelerCountry58
08-18-2011, 12:10 AM
I really do wonder if 2-3 years from now if we will be a 5-11 team. With soooo many defensive players in the last years of their prime and our O line a constant question mark, I just fear that we will waste the last few years of Ben in his prime.

I think we have a pretty decent balance on D. Our linebacker core is set
with Woodley and Timmons,we'll have to add a mid when Harrison goes.
The D line has Hood and Heyward to start with and more youth will be
added within the next few years. The secondary is a toss up. I can see
Troy playing for a few more years but at his consistency and health?

O line is a problem that needs addressing. Our wideouts look good with
the emergence of Wallace/Brown/Sanders etc... Mendy won't be around
in 3 years,highly doubtfull. We can add a RB no big deal there.
Ben will age gracefully if he's protected and smart. I still see one more
Bowl victory for Big Ben down the road.:cope:

STEELyourface
08-18-2011, 01:42 AM
I think we have a pretty decent balance on D. Our linebacker core is set
with Woodley and Timmons,we'll have to add a mid when Harrison goes.
The D line has Hood and Heyward to start with and more youth will be
added within the next few years. The secondary is a toss up. I can see
Troy playing for a few more years but at his consistency and health?

O line is a problem that needs addressing. Our wideouts look good with
the emergence of Wallace/Brown/Sanders etc... Mendy won't be around
in 3 years,highly doubtfull. We can add a RB no big deal there.
Ben will age gracefully if he's protected and smart. I still see one more
Bowl victory for Big Ben down the road.:cope:


There is definitely a good overlapping of age in the front seven that will allow us to develop new guys to step right into the roles the other guys are in now without missing a beat. The secondary is always a bit of a toss up for us and I have to agree with you about the offense too.

IF we dip at all in the years to come it will be slight and we'll be right back up and keep rolling.

BlitzburghRockCity
08-18-2011, 11:50 AM
The defense is heavily laden with veterans, however you can see the transition to younger guys now starting to work their way into the lineup.

Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward, Curtis Brown, Stevenson Sylvester, all will be great additions as their starting turn comes around. Guys like Timmons and Woodley are already in the prime of their careers and will be around for a long time.

Safety for me right now would be a major concern, if only because of the health of Troy and lack of depth there behind the 2 starters besides Ryan Mundy.

Veteran teams like the Steelers though know how to win, how to pull together in the heat of battle. I like this unit again 2011 to be dominant (assuming the pieces fall in place in the secondary).

Rampage
08-18-2011, 01:08 PM
Experience can sometimes make up for shortcomings in athleticism and athleticism can sometimes make up for shortcomings in experience. You don't want too many young guys or too many old guys, because you'll be weak in some facet of the game; you need balance. It looks like the team is trying to get younger on the d-line and in the linebacking corps, but I am still concerned with the secondary, particularly the safeties.

Clark has definitely lost a step and his style of crushing hits has been phased out of the game (if he can even make them anymore). Polamalu is talented, but never makes it a full season without something getting tweaked in one of his legs. These guys know the defense like the backs of their hands, but that can't make up for age and injury. I'd love to see the team address this position in the near future.

steelersbabex25
08-18-2011, 02:15 PM
I can't believe Harrison is so old. I still think of him as 25, not 33.

TampaSteelGirl
08-18-2011, 03:26 PM
I just got depressed looking at their ages....the entire D almost...LeBeau's gonna retire and almost the rest of our D....:thud:

Thisoneguy555
08-19-2011, 01:24 AM
It's obvious the Steelers have to rebuild the D for the future. But it seems they've been working on it, maybe some drafts in the future will hold some younger defensive backs and linebackers.

Steelers offensive line has been in question for the past 3 years. The pass blocking in general has been in question since 2005. The Steelers can win with a questionable line, plus at this point, the line can really only get better, I highly doubt it will be worse a couple years down the line.

BlitzburghRockCity
08-19-2011, 10:42 AM
That old group looked pretty quick last night vs the Eagles. They were flying to the ball and were playing with a high level of intensity that you don't always see in the preseason. We'll see as the year goes on how they hold up but I've always said I wouldn't put anything past this group, they are too good together to not be successful.

JensK
08-19-2011, 11:07 AM
That old group looked pretty quick last night vs the Eagles. They were flying to the ball and were playing with a high level of intensity that you don't always see in the preseason. We'll see as the year goes on how they hold up but I've always said I wouldn't put anything past this group, they are too good together to not be successful.

I agree for the most part. I really feel as tho Farrior have slowed down a lot compared to last year. Sure, one should not jump to conclusions yet, but it could spell trouble for Steelers as I don't really see anyone behind him who I believe would be ready to start yet.