By John Harris
Friday, October 13, 2006
This is no time to panic.
The Steelers are Super Bowl-tested, and everyone on the defense -- well, what's left of the defense -- is confident and at ease in the face of rising adversity.
With good reason. The Steelers have a lot of talent on defense, with five players making the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.
Despite a lack of big plays and stops, Steelers defenders believe they will play their best game of the season Sunday against Kansas City at Heinz Field.
"I honestly think we're still trying to decide what our best weapon is," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We're just four games into the season. Everyone is nervous, but in this locker room, understand that we're fine.
"We're only two games behind. We're still OK."
No Joey Porter. Possibly no Deshea Townsend. First-time starter Arnold Harrison replacing Porter, and 36-year-old linebacker Chad Brown coming out of the bullpen as a last-minute pick-up.
No problem, the Steelers say.
One month into the season, the 1-3 Steelers don't have much margin for error. If the Steelers want to make a serious playoff run, they have to fix what's wrong with their defense.
"Until we finish the deal, teams are going to fight their way back," said Porter, whose streak of consecutive starts will end at 27 because of a hamstring injury. "We had opportunities to put people away. We just haven't done it."
Porter's blunt analysis of what's wrong with the Steelers defense is enlightening.
He says, because the Steelers are having trouble scoring points, the defense is unable to dictate down-and-distance. That makes it easier for teams to be multi-dimensional, thereby making it more difficult for the Steelers to set their defense.
When the Steelers failed to score a touchdown and settled for a field goal and a 10-0 lead against San Diego, the Steelers defense couldn't pin back its ears and turn it loose against quarterback Philip Rivers, Porter said.
"If we go up, 14-0, it makes their offense go to a whole different ballgame, where we know what they have to do," he said. "It's one-dimensional, where they have to pass. They don't have time to run themselves back into the game.
"That's what we used to do."
Instead, San Diego ended the first half with a 80-yard touchdown drive. The Chargers scored 16 unanswered points in the second half and roared to a 23-13 victory.
After failing on its first three third-down conversions, San Diego's offense converted nine of its next 13.
"We need to get off the field on third down," Keisel said. "That's what killed us."
The Steelers are playing the same defense from a year ago. The players are the same. But the results are different.