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fordfixer
10-16-2009, 01:30 AM
Fourth quarters plaguing Steelers defense

By Scott Brown, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, October 16, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 48234.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_648234.html)

Dick LeBeau got a tad defensive Thursday.

And the subject which brought out a side that LeBeau rarely shows: whether the Steelers have been too passive during the fourth quarter of games.

"I think if you check my track record, we're going to come after you," LeBeau said following practice Thursday. "I don't know what the numbers were, but I think we got a few sacks (51) last year.

"We try to be intelligent about that because pressure is no good (if you lose) the element of surprise. If everybody knows you're pressuring all the time, then they're just going to max (protect) and get some big plays in there. We'll try to change it up, but we're definitely a pressure defense."

The Steelers haven't always turned up the heat on opponents, particularly in the fourth quarter. Fifty-five of the 98 points they have yielded have come in the final 15 minutes of games. And in losses to the Bears and Bengals, the Steelers gave up a combined 251 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter after largely shutting down each team through the first three quarters.

Last Sunday in Detroit, the Steelers staved off an upset bid by sacking quarterback Daunte Culpepper on three consecutive plays.

The Steelers, in fact, blitzed Culpepper on eight of the nine plays of Detroit's final possession. Yet on the touchdown drive that allowed Detroit to pull within eight points earlier in the quarter, the Steelers blitzed just one time in seven plays.

"We haven't changed our personality," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We want to apply pressure to the quarterback. If you can do it with four, great. If you need more than four, then we're willing to do that. I think consistent pressure on the quarterback is the key to playing good defense."

So too is creating turnovers, and the Steelers are averaging less than one takeaway a game.

"That's an area we are addressing daily, and we do need to produce more turnovers," LeBeau said. "I think if you play good defense, turnovers will come."

Getting Troy Polamalu back - the All-Pro safety is on track to play Sunday for the first time since Sept. 10 - should help the Steelers rediscover their opportunistic side.

What the Steelers gain by the return of Polamalu, however, has been tempered by the loss of defensive end Aaron Smith to a season-ending shoulder injury.

Along with the questions raised by the loss of Smith is the running one of whether this unit can dominate the way last year's defense did - and close out offenses in the fourth quarter.

To do the latter, the Steelers need to generate a pass rush on a consistent basis and not hurt themselves with untimely penalties - they have had pass-interference penalties in three consecutive games.

"We're not trying to be the 2008 defense because that's in the past," cornerback William Gay said. "All we're trying to do is get better, and the stats and all of that will come later."

A closer look

The Steelers have given up more points in the fourth quarter (55) than the other three quarters combined (43). Here is a look at how many yards they have yielded in the fourth quarter compared to the other three quarters this season

Opponent Fourth quarter First three

Titans 52 268

Bears 112 163

Bengals 139 134

Chargers 81 170

Lions 95 240