Letdowns hurtful to Steelers

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

They can blame the absence of all-world safety Troy Polamalu for two games. They can blame not getting the reliable push from their defensive line that would have helped prevent wide receivers from constantly gaining downfield separation.

To safety Ryan Clark, it's time to stop finding reasons why the Steelers secondary's statistics look great but their execution can look awful, especially in the second half.

To illustrate how numbers can lie, the Steelers (1-2) are No. 5 in total defense and No. 3 in passing yardage, yet they made an aging Peyton Manning look like an in-his-prime Manning, and Carson Palmer look like the Palmer of 2004. If Mark Sanchez hadn't looked like Mark Sanchez, the Steelers' numbers wouldn't look like they do.

Big plays allowed, drives extended, upsets not prevented, games lost in the second half. No matter what the statistics say, that's not the Steelers' way.

“It's like I said, on the first play (Sunday) there's no more excuses,” Clark said Wednesday. “We can't run in here and say, ‘We don't have Troy, we don't have James (Harrison).' We have everybody we're supposed to have now, so we've got to go out and make plays. You get a lift when those guys are out there, running to the ball and doing what they've done for years.”

What's contradictory to their high rankings is that opponents are converting nearly half of their third-down attempts (16 of 33), thus keeping an aging defense on the field too long. That's showing up in the second half, when the Steelers are giving up nearly twice as many yards passing (385) as they are in the first half (215).

“Any defense, if you're not going 100 percent on third down, you're not satisfied,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We have to pick it up. I think we're going to come out with a better effort this week.”

They might need one against ultra-mobile quarterback Michael Vick, whose ability to extend drives with his running and throwing helped the Eagles (3-1) rally in the fourth quarter of all three of their wins. Philadelphia visits Heinz Field on Sunday.

“If we get no push or if we get push, we have to be solid on our coverage,” cornerback Cortez Allen said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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