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Kovacevic: Old? Slow? Not Steelers' problem

| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, 11:27 p.m.
The Steelers' Ryan Mundy and Troy Polamalu can't catch Broncos reciever Demaryius Thomas at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sept. 9, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

One learns in life it isn't all that bright to argue with 285-pound, thickly bearded, mountain-bred defensive ends. So I happily accept Brett Keisel's word when he spoke the following late Sunday night in Denver: “We feel like we're a better defense than that.”

He's correct, of course.

It just might be that, by the time the Steelers march off Heinz Field this weekend, they'll have mauled Mark Sanchez and the Jets, and the opening 31-19 loss will be as distant a memory as Rex Ryan's former waistline.

It just might be, as Keisel added, “a matter of rectifying a few things.”

But let's first rectify one description of the defense that shouldn't be in the discussion.

OLD and SLOW.

It started with Warren Sapp's jab a year ago, and it's carried all the way into the predictable outcry this week. Someone on the Web or a talk show brings up the defense, and it's a matter of seconds before it pops up anew.

OLD and SLOW.

It's lazy analysis, to be kind, especially as it relates to Sunday.

Let me ask this: Who was the Steelers' best player?

Answer: It was, by an almost shameful margin, 32-year-old Larry Foote. He had eight tackles, a sack, two hurries of Peyton Manning, a forced fumble, a pass defended, and probably helped little old ladies cross the street outside the stadium.

Fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons?

Five tackles and ... well, he did make it onto the active roster.

Timmons is 26, and he's YOUNG and FAST, though you wouldn't know the latter from how easily the surgically rebuilt Manning sprinted away from him on that late scramble.

The linemen and outside backers totaled only five hurries on Manning. But again, that had little to do with OLD or SLOW.

Tomlin rotated his linemen liberally, giving extensive time to Cam Heyward, 23, and Steve McLendon, 26, in part to combat the thin air. And of the outside backers, LaMarr Woodley, 27, had no sacks or hurries, and Chris Carter, 23, who's VERY YOUNG and VERY FAST, was buried all night by Denver tight end Joel Dreessen.

The biggest factor, actually, was that Manning was brilliant in picking up blitzes and quick in moving the ball. But that would have been the case if the Steelers had gone with ALL ROOKIES who could ALL RUN LIKE USAIN BOLT.

Which takes us to the secondary, maybe the most maligned with that OLD and SLOW label.

Manning's most frequent victim was Keenan Lewis, 26, who allowed Eric Decker five catches. It was no way to make anyone forget William Gay, 27, whose offseason exit via free agency always should have raised more red flags than it did.

That was a case of OLD being better than NEW.

Ryan Mundy, 27, filled the spot of Ryan Clark, 32, for the game.

Ike Taylor, 32, was torched again by Demaryius Thomas, but he shuts down pretty much everyone else, YOUNG or OLD.

And Troy Polamalu?

Well, let's face it: When people talk OLD and SLOW, aren't they really talking about Troy?

Sorry, I'm not there yet.

Sure, Polamalu isn't hitting the highlights anymore. You've seen a lot more Clark Kent than Superman for a couple years now, especially when hurt. Tomlin revealed Tuesday that Polamalu has a strained calf.

Still, look at his big gaffe in Denver -- he went underneath a block that led to Thomas' 71-yard touchdown -- and it was mental. An OLD player is better equipped to make that play, even if he's now SLOWER.

“I should have made a better decision,” Polamalu said.

Or he could have had help. Mundy got blown up, too. Maybe Clark wouldn't have been. Never underestimate what Clark's stability means to Polamalu.

Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat this. The defense was lousy. Three 80-yard touchdown drives in a row is embarrassing.

But let's set aside the memes and consider real solutions Tomlin and Dick LeBeau should find for the Jets: If James Harrison isn't ready, sit Carter for Jason Worilds, who put the only hard hit on Manning. Get help for Lewis, too, or drop him for Cortez Allen. And let's see more of Heyward and McLendon.

The coaches should look in the mirror, too.

Manning outsmarts most opponents, but there had to be an extra sting in hearing Denver receiver Brandon Stokley say of the Steelers' late defensive collapse: “I think they pretty much did the same thing all game.”

Hey, maybe it's the strategies and adjustments that are OLD and SLOW.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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