Steelers defense doesn't make the grade in 2013 review

| Saturday, March 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Tom Brady put up a record 55 points against the Steelers. Calvin Johnson threatened to have 200 yards receiving by halftime. Even Matt Cassel had a big day against them.

But the play that perhaps best illustrated the falloff of the Steelers defense in 2013 — from No. 1 in the league to No. 13 — was former Jeannette star Terrelle Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run for Oakland, easily the longest run ever by an NFL quarterback.

The Steelers slid from No. 2 in rushing defense in 2012 to No. 21, allowing 1,849 yards, the most they've permitted since 1999. With so many high-priced players on his defense allowing such alarmingly high rushing totals, team president Art Rooney II is concerned.

In multiple interviews since the season ended, he frequently has cited the defense's failure to halt the run as being a major disappointment.

“We gave up too many big plays. We fell down into the middle of the league in the strength of defending against the run, which is something historically that we've been in the top five most years,” Rooney said. “We fell off on from what we normally expect on defense, and we need to make sure we address that.”

Only four starters — Steve McLendon, Jason Worilds, Troy Polamalu and Cam Heyward — graded out positively against the run in Pro Football Focus' play-by-play grades. Even the consistent Lawrence Timmons wasn't one of them.

Polamalu was the highest-graded player on defense during a comeback season in which he forced five fumbles and made the Pro Bowl, and Heyward drew high grades across the board in pass and run coverage and pass rushing.

After having strong 2012 seasons, cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Clark slumped badly. Taylor allowed receivers to catch 71 passes for 1,043 yards and six touchdowns, and he ranked 97th among the league's 110 most-used cornerbacks, down from No. 33.

By far the lowest-rated player on defense was free agent-to-be Ziggy Hood, who graded out next to last among all 3-4 defensive ends.

Cornerback William Gay was the third-highest rated player on defense behind Polamalu and Heyward. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was fourth after having five sacks in his first six games, but two calf injuries limited him to 146 snaps over the second half of the season, and his future in Pittsburgh is in doubt.

Something Rooney no doubt liked: Rookies Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas graded positively against the run. But fellow rookie Vince Williams graded out negatively after being forced to play more than expected at inside linebacker after the since-released Larry Foote's Week 1 injury.

“I felt we had a good draft last year,” Rooney said. “(They) are guys we expect will come in next year and take that step that you hope comes along with the second year.”

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

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