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Aging defense cripples Steelers

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor couldn't hang onto this potential interception during the first quarter against the Vikings on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013.

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By Alan Robinson
Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
 

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 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.

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 as one of the worst all season, 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.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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