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fordfixer
10-13-2009, 01:43 AM
Still searching for Pittsburgh's defense
http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Sto ... ons-column (http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Story/10-12-Steelers-Lions-column)

DETROIT - Make no mistake about it, the Steelers' defense isn't the dominating unit it was last year. The yards, particularly in the fourth quarter, are coming just a little bit easier for the opponents this season.

But another sign of a good unit is being able to make a play when needed.

The Steelers had struggled with that in their two losses, failing to hold fourth-quarter leads against both Chicago and Cincinnati.

Against Detroit Sunday, it looked as if that might happen again when the Lions cut Pittsburgh's lead to 28-20 with 4:57 remaining.

After forcing the Steelers to punt, the Lions got the football back at their own 29-yard line and proceeded to move to the Pittsburgh 21 with 1:54 left.

But Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau decided he had seen enough and he wasn't going down without a fight. He called for cornerback blitzes from William Gay on back-to-back plays, resulting in a pair of sacks of Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Then, on third down, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons came hard on a blitz and sacked Culpepper again, pushing the Lions all the way back to the Pittsburgh 45.

There would be no fourth-quarter comeback in this one.

"You've got to give Coach LeBeau credit. He dissected that offense and called just the right blitz," said Gay, who got the sack on the second blitz and shared one with linebacker LaMarr Woodley on the first.

The three consecutive sacks helped mask what was an otherwise lackluster performance by the Steelers' defense against a team that lost wide receiver Calvin Johnson - the Lions' best playmaker - in the first half to a knee injury.

Without Johnson, the Lions should have been no match for the Steelers.

Yet there they were, late in the game, hanging in with the defending Super Bowl champions.

Part of the reason for that was yet another interception returned for a touchdown against the Steelers. Those things happen from time to time, though it has occurred in back-to-back weeks for Ben Roethlisberger.

But it still doesn't explain allowing 335 yards to the Lions, a team that failed to win a game last year and one with only a single victory this season. And 205 of those yards came in the second half, when the Lions also converted eight of 11 third downs

The Steelers should have been putting this game away, not allowing the Lions to control the clock and hang around.

Instead, the Steelers found themselves again living on the edge, needing to make a defensive stand late in the game to close out a win.

It worked out for the Steelers this time. But it was far from what we've become accustomed to seeing from this defense.

"We're still searching for the Steelers," admitted linebacker James Farrior. "We still think we left some plays out there."

Maybe getting safety Troy Polamalu back Sunday against Cleveland will be all this defense needs.

Yes, the defense only allowed 13 points Sunday, but the 55 points the Steelers have allowed in the fourth quarter through five games is alarming. They gave up only 75 points in the final quarter all of last year.

The Steelers were able to hold on for the victory against Detroit. But they can't continue to play this way if they want to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

F. Dale Lolley can be reached at dlolley@observer-reporter.com