Run down: Steelers rush defense not up to standard
One thing about Dick LeBeau: He knows all about statistics, especially when it pertains to his defense.
The Steelers' Hall of Fame defensive coordinator can just about recite every statistical category regarding his defense, whether it was from this year or any other year.
So when LeBeau says he's not too concerned about the falloff of his rushing defense heading into Sunday's regular-season finale at Cleveland, you tend to take him at his word.
"I think we have done a good job against the run," LeBeau said. "We have done better jobs in the past. But total defense, we are playing pretty good."
Statistically, the aspect that LeBeau prides himself in the most hasn't matched the team's previous standards. The Steelers are ninth in the league in rushing yards per game, allowing just more than 100 on average.
A LeBeau-led defense has never been lower than third at season's end. They are allowing 40 rushing yards a game more than last year, have given up nearly as many 100-yard rushers in 15 games than they have over the previous seven years and have allowed three times as many 15-yard runs this year than they did all of last season.
"You are talking about one little part of the defense," LeBeau said. "You can pick out this little thing or that little thing. You are kicking a dead horse, my friend. We are leading the league in defense. If we have to get better, 31 other teams have to get better, too."
The Steelers are tops in the league in total defense thanks to pass coverage that is 42 yards per game better than last year. That, however, hasn't masked the fact the run defense has been lacking.
"Last year, we were run-stopping aliens," safety Ryan Clark said. "We acknowledge that it does have to get better. We know it has to get better. The time to correct it is over. It has to be done now."
|Stopping the rush|
|The Steelers' rushing defense under the direction of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau since his return in 2004:|
|Year||Rushes||Yards||Avg.||NFL rank||15-yard gains|
|* -- Projected|
The Steelers flirted with becoming the best run defense the NFL has ever seen in a single season before missing out by a mere 34 yards last year. Such a high standard makes living up to that nearly impossible.
"That doesn't happen. You can't compare anything to last year," Clark said.
Even though LeBeau downplays it, the players know they have to be better at stopping the run.
"It's our style of ball. That's how we make teams one-dimensional, so we can attack the quarterback," safety Troy Polamalu said. "If you don't stop the run, you don't allow guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to rush the quarterback."
The Steelers are on pace for the fewest sacks since 2003.
"It hasn't been one of our better years against the run," linebacker James Farrior said. "We understand that. We still feel like we have a good defense, though."
Lack of personnel has been a problem, too. Defensive end Aaron Smith has missed the majority of the season, Woodley has missed five games and parts of two others, and Harrison was out for five games.
"It is a combination of everything," Harrison said. "We aren't fitting it up right ... all that stuff."
Giving up long runs also has been an issue. Last year, they allowed three runs of 15 yards or longer. This year, they have given up 15 of those rushes, and that's not including a 76-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice that was called back for holding.
"We haven't been fitting right, guys missing tackles," Farrior said. "Good defenses don't allow that."
Four of those long runs went for at least 25 yards. The Steelers haven't allowed that many long rushes in five years.
"Some of that is because of bad tackling in the secondary, I know a few cases from myself," Polamalu said.
An improvement in rush defense will be imperative, especially if the Steelers go on the road against possible playoff teams Houston, Denver or Oakland -- the top three rushing teams in the AFC.
"If you run the ball in the postseason, you can win," Farrior said. "If you can't stop the run, you are going to be in for a long day."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Police charge New Florence man in St. Clair officer’s killing
- Fatal HOV lane crash in Ross under investigation
- Penn State coach fires offensive coordinator
- New Kensington man killed in North Buffalo crash
- Travelers advised to arrive 2 hours early for flights from Pittsburgh International Airport
- Indiana Twp. liver transplant recipient, 2, takes steps toward normal life
- Zatkoff’s, Malkin’s heroics not enough as Oilers down Penguins in shootout
- Man surrenders after standoff in Middle Hill
- Police officer fatally shot in New Florence; suspect in custody
- New Christmas decorations make Leechburg shine a little brighter
- Anti-drug agencies find key ally in battling overdoses: Addicts