Aging defensive unit is crippling struggling Steelers this season
The Steelers' defense isn't what it used to be.
It isn't what Troy Polamalu knows it to be. It isn't like any other Dick LeBeau has put on the field. It isn't like any Steelers defense since Chuck Noll was coaching.
For all of the Steelers' problems on offense — and they are many —nothing explains their 0-4 start like the falloff of a defense that was easily the NFL's best statistically over the previous five seasons.
“I think we all have to reassess ourselves,” Polamalu said. “Everybody is very disappointed.”
Eight starters remain from 2008, when the Steelers' defense was one of the best of all time despite taking on the roughest schedule of any Super Bowl winner. From 2008-12, the Steelers allowed nearly 2,000 fewer yards than any other NFL team.
“But this is a defense in transition,” said former Colts general manager Bill Polian, a SiriusXM radio NFL analyst.
It's also a defense in remission.
A defense that led the NFL in four of the previous six seasons is allowing an average of 325.8 yards per game, the most since Noll's final season in 1991 and nearly 67 yards more per game than that 2008 defense allowed.
The Steelers are the only NFL team that has yet to force a turnover. They tied for the league lead with 218 sacks from 2008-12 but this season they have a league-low four.
Not getting to the quarterback means fewer chances of knocking the ball away and creating turnovers, like the six Ben Roethlisberger already has himself.
The Steelers already have allowed six plays of 40 yards or longer — two in a single half against the Vikings on Sunday — or twice as many as all last season. And a season after leading the league in pass defense, the Steelers rank 27th.
It's not as much a question of what's wrong but, rather, what's right?
“Ike Taylor has a big reputation and is a very savvy player, but he isn't what he once was,” Polian said. “The linebackers are just average; they're not as fearsome and as physical as they once were.”
It's also not strictly a matter of the defense being too old. Younger players such as cornerback Cortez Allen, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and inside linebacker Vince Williams all had rough games against the Vikings. Williams' performance graded out as one of the worst all season by any NFL defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I'm not sure they can fix this,” said former Colts and Bucs coach Tony Dungy, an “NBC Sunday Night Football” analyst. “I don't know that they have the talent. I think they just have an old defense that does not have any playmakers.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
- McCullers’, McLendon’s prowess in clogging trenches crucial to Steelers defense
- Steelers swap draft pick for Eagles cornerback
- After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
- Steelers notebook: Injuries finally become issue at training camp
- Inside the Steelers: QB Jones continues to get majority of snaps
- Inside The Steelers: LB Williams dominates backs-on-backers drill at Latrobe Memorial Stadium
- Steelers OLB coach Porter teaches as passionately as he played
- 2014 showing has Steelers RB Harris confident he belongs
- Steelers notebook: Officials discuss new game ball procedures
- Steelers’ reserve quarterbacks vie to secure spot behind Roethlisberger, Gradkowski
- Inside the Steelers: Rookie linebacker Chickillo continues to excel