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Steelers are hoping to tackle their problems on defense

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 10:39 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson high-steps into the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown against the Steelers on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, at Wembley Stadium in London.

Ike Taylor has been through it before and knows there is no magic solution, no new innovative defensive scheme, to fix it.

Sometimes missed tackles just happen.

“When you are 0-4, it's magnified,” Taylor said.

And when those missed tackles result in explosive plays that decide the outcomes of the games, they're even more scrutinized.

The Steelers have two weeks to try to figure out their tackling woes as they started their bye week Tuesday with a tackle-free practice. The Steelers will practice Wednesday before taking off the rest of the week.

“There's no excuses other than we need to bring people to the ground,” safety Troy Polamalu said.

One of the reasons the Steelers have been the No. 1-ranked defense the past two years and four of the past six seasons under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is because of sure tackling.

The Steelers averaged 72 missed tackles per season over the past five years. This season they are third-worst in the NFL and are on pace for 166 missed tackles.

“It is unacceptable,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “You can't let those things happen. We need to straighten these things out now. We have to wrap up better, swarm to the ball.”

They need to do something because those missed tackles are leading to game-changing plays.

The Steelers allowed five plays of 20 yards or longer against the Vikings, including three of more than 50 yards. A LeBeau-led Steelers defense never has allowed that many big plays in a game.

“It's affecting the outcome of football games, so obviously there's a level of concern regarding it,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Steelers have allowed five plays of 50 yards or longer this season, and three are result of missed tackles:

• Matt Forte's 55-yard run in a Week 3 loss to Chicago was a result of a Clark missed tackle.

• Greg Jennings' 70-yard touchdown reception in Week 4 was helped by missed tackles by Cortez Allen and William Gay.

• Adrian Peterson' 60-yard touchdown run was because of four missed tackles — by Vince Williams, LaMarr Woodley, Taylor and Timmons.

“Tackling, for the most part, has to do with focus and attitude,” Polamalu said. “At this level, that's what tackling has to do with.”

The biggest problem with missed tackles have come from an unlikely place: their secondary. The Steelers historically have been a good tackling secondary under LeBeau.

That's not the case this year, as the secondary is responsible for 20 of the Steelers' 41 missed tackles.

“We make a lot of plays in space that, when I watch film, other teams don't make,” said Clark, who is tied for the team lead with five missed tackles. “It is a big reason why we have been the No. 1 defense in run for many years. Runs do break, and runs do get to the secondary, but we have always done a good job of getting people down.”

Coincidentally, Tomlin decided during training camp to use one practice period every day to work on live tackling. It's something that he never had asked his team to do before and something that's rarely done in the league.

“We have struggled before, and we are struggling right now,” Taylor said. “It is something we have to fix.”

To Taylor, it has to be fixed immediately.

“It is like when you are going to school and the bully keeps picking on you,” Taylor said. “Are you going to keep letting him pick on you, or are you going to fight it out? We are going to fight it out.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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