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Steelers players come to LeBeau's defense

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 10:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau looks on during OTAs June 7, 2012, at Heinz Field.

In the aftermath of a 55-31 loss at New England, the Steelers' usually reliable defense has faced intense scrutiny, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau finds himself in the crosshair of criticism.

It's an unusual predicament for the stoic LeBeau, whose defense has been No. 1 in the NFL five times during the past decade, including an 8-8 season in 2012.

When asked if LeBeau is at fault, safety Troy Polamalu said, “It depends on who you're asking. Not in my opinion.”

For the most part, the players hold themselves accountable. They insisted that LeBeau's game plans are effective, but they have failed to execute them properly.

“Somebody has to take the blame,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “That's just the way it is when you're having a bad season. Last season I was the one to take the blame. It comes with the territory. Now people want to blame the defensive coordinator.”

“There's nothing anyone can say outside our group about coach LeBeau that bothers us,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We know what kind of man he is. We know want kind of work he puts into us not just as football players but as men. We don't have to defend him. His resume speaks for itself.”

While the offense has struggled to generate points, the defense has played well enough to keep the team within striking distance in most games. That, of course, was until Sunday, when the defense withered amid a 31-7 Patriots barrage to close the game.

“The bottom line is we have to keep the score where our guys have a chance to win it,” LeBeau said Thursday. “We clearly did not do that (against New England).”

The Steelers, ranked 12th defensively this week, will try to turn things around against the Buffalo Bills (3-6) on Sunday at Heinz Field.

“We don't have the luxury of hindsight,” LeBeau said. “We had a very good week of practice. You will see an improvement.”

The Patriots exposed every weakness of the Steelers' defense. Just when the unit thought it had figured out how Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor covered 93 yards for a touchdown, it surrendered a franchise-record 610 yards of offense to the Patriots.

LeBeau said the problem was a breakdown in fundamentals. The Steelers often were in the wrong places at the right time, and Tom Brady torched them for 432 yards and four touchdowns.

“We've gotten away from (fundamentals), and that's on me,” LeBeau said. “We're leaving too many windows, and we're going to close the windows.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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