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Oviedo
11-30-2010, 11:50 AM
By John Harris, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They say football is a young man's game. The Steelers say otherwise.

The NFL's No. 5 ranked defense is also one of the oldest.

At the start of the season, seven members of the Steelers' defense were 30 or older. It was wishful thinking to expect all seven to make it through the year intact.

Starting defensive end Aaron Smith, 34, has missed five games with a triceps injury. He is expected to return this season. It isn't a good sign that Smith missed 11 games last season with a torn rotator cuff, after missing the final three regular-season games and a playoff game in 2007 with a torn biceps. That's a troubling trifecta. Smith earns his living with his arms and shoulders.

Smith's level of play is exceptional -- when he plays.

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel, 32, has missed five games with hamstring and calf injuries. He is expected to return this season, even sooner than Smith. Keisel was expected to play against Buffalo after missing two games with a hamstring injury. However, those plans changed when he woke up Saturday experiencing discomfort in his calf. Keisel's latest injury isn't considered as serious as Smith's, but both players have missed a total of 10 starts this season. That's a lot of games to be without your starting defensive ends.

Still, the Steelers continue to lead the league in rushing defense, thanks to defensive end replacements Nick Eason, 30, and Ziggy Hood, 23.

"They're both playing well," said inside linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior, 35. "They're getting better every week, getting more comfortable every game."

Eason suffered a knee injury against Buffalo and could miss Sunday night's AFC North showdown at Baltimore. Nose tackle Chris Hoke, 34, who also plays end, could slide over and start for Eason, who's starting for Keisel.

The standard may be the standard, but the Steelers are living dangerously believing they can continue getting away with gambling on their stable of over-30 defensive linemen without injuries becoming a factor.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell is fiercely loyal to his players. He coaches them, gives them plenty of respect, and they respect him right back.

Mitchell is protective when asked about the age of his linemen. He said Smith sitting out most of last season wasn't due to him getting older, but an unfortunate situation. I respectfully disagree.

Injuries, age, and wear and tear have taken a toll on Smith, who excels in taking on two blockers at a time. His body can only absorb so much pounding before giving out.

The front office should have seen this coming. To their credit, the Steelers drafted Hood in the first round of the 2009 draft. That's a start. But more young bodies are needed.

A quiet transition is occurring at nose tackle, where Hoke is receiving an increasing number of snaps at Casey Hampton's expense. Hampton started the Buffalo game on the sideline as the Steelers lined up in their dime defense, which features two linemen and six defensive backs, on Buffalo's first offensive play. Hood also lined up at nose tackle occasionally.

The Steelers signed Hampton to a three-year, $21 million extension with $11 million guaranteed in February. That's a lot of money for a part-time player, especially one who has started every game he's played in since his rookie season. This move can't be about age. Hampton, 33, is a year younger than Hoke.

Young or old, the Steelers must upgrade their situational pass rush. Statistically, the Steelers are doing fine. They're tied for second in the league with 32 sacks, but where was the rush when Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had enough time to drop back and eat a five-course meal while waiting for wide receiver Steve Johnson to complete a difficult "Z" route in the end zone? Johnson dropped the potential game-winner in overtime.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau blitzed cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay to beef up the rush. Still, Fitzpatrick was sacked only twice in 45 pass attempts.

Truth be told, the Steelers defensive line has ranked among the league's best for a long time. This year has been no different -- older is in. The future can wait, because the future is now.

steelblood
11-30-2010, 07:26 PM
Yep, they are old and can't stay healthy. I really hope that Smith retires. I really appreciate all he has done for the franchise, but I don't think we can really depend on him going into another season. if smith retires, we'd be forced to address the position/depth/youth on the DL.

hawaiiansteel
11-30-2010, 08:14 PM
I hope that we address the depth issue on the DL in this upcoming draft and/or through free agency AND that Smitty does not retire.

fordfixer
11-30-2010, 11:58 PM
The Steelers players are not old, they are "seasoned veterans". If the Steelers record was 3-8 instead of 8-3 then they would be old :lol: :tt1 :tt1 :tt1

Chadman
12-01-2010, 12:27 AM
1 or 2 DL might actually be more important than 1 or 2 OL this coming draft. This might inspire wild howls of pain from the "We need OL" crew, but this is a team that wins with a stout D & Ben- not through dominance through the OL.

Realistically, Starks & Colon are at the worst- servicable OT's. Same with Kemo at OG. Pouncey looks the goods at OC. Could Foster or Legursky secure the RG spot? That would seem the most immediate need to sort out on OL. drafting a mid-round OT might be in the organisation's best interests- but investing in an early OT might not.

No doubt the attrition rate of our DL this season is alarming. Added to this the attrition rate over the last 3 years & the facts become obvious- fitter bodies are required. In Chadman's opinion, Chris Hoke is one that could be sacrificed for a "Top 3 Round" DL- preferably a guy that can slide inside & out. McLendon will never make us think of Joel Steed or Ray Seals. Punt him for another "Top 3 Round" DL- more the stout DE type. This gives you 3 DL under 30 next season out of a group of 7. Not bad when Eason is just over 30. If Smith is indeed done, it's quite possible that a FA is required, to at the least, rotate into the DL. Hampton should be fine for another year or 2- in fact, he looks pretty good this season. Keisel hasn't really been hit with the injury stick until this season, so we might still see another 2 years of good service in him. Realistically the Steelers have waited 1 or 2 seasons too long to start the rebuilding of the DL, but better late than never.

StarSpangledSteeler
12-01-2010, 06:21 AM
1 or 2 DL might actually be more important than 1 or 2 OL this coming draft. This might inspire wild howls of pain from the "We need OL" crew, but this is a team that wins with a stout D & Ben- not through dominance through the OL.

Realistically, Starks & Colon are at the worst- servicable OT's. Same with Kemo at OG. Pouncey looks the goods at OC. Could Foster or Legursky secure the RG spot? That would seem the most immediate need to sort out on OL. drafting a mid-round OT might be in the organisation's best interests- but investing in an early OT might not.

No doubt the attrition rate of our DL this season is alarming. Added to this the attrition rate over the last 3 years & the facts become obvious- fitter bodies are required. In Chadman's opinion, Chris Hoke is one that could be sacrificed for a "Top 3 Round" DL- preferably a guy that can slide inside & out. McLendon will never make us think of Joel Steed or Ray Seals. Punt him for another "Top 3 Round" DL- more the stout DE type. This gives you 3 DL under 30 next season out of a group of 7. Not bad when Eason is just over 30. If Smith is indeed done, it's quite possible that a FA is required, to at the least, rotate into the DL. Hampton should be fine for another year or 2- in fact, he looks pretty good this season. Keisel hasn't really been hit with the injury stick until this season, so we might still see another 2 years of good service in him. Realistically the Steelers have waited 1 or 2 seasons too long to start the rebuilding of the DL, but better late than never.


I agree with some of your points here, but disagree with others...

You're absolutely correct that we have waited a year or two too long to address the DL. But we have waited four to five years too long to address the OL. The problem is that in the last five years, opposing defensive lineman have gotten exponentially bigger, and faster, and more athletic, at the same time as we have gotten less (in all three areas). The lack of talent on the OL is currently effecting ALL aspects of our game. They get virtually no push in the run game and very rarely open any kind of holes. Mendenhall gets hit BEHIND the line of scrimmage on half our run plays. This puts Ben at 3rd and long far too often, and then they can't protect him long enough to execute our passing plays. Then (when we don't sustain drives) it puts our defense back out on the field too early. Our D is not built to stay out there that long. They wear down and lose their explosiveness. I believe that is the primary reason for our failure to hold 4th quarter leads. That is why I put drafting OL as the higher priority. (Again not to say it's the only priority because any rational fan can see how thin and old we are at DL just the higher priority). Look at the difference drafting a first round "Pouncey" has made both in our passing and run game. I would expect drafting his brother to have not only an equal effect but a cumulative effect. On the other hand, look at the difference drafting a first round "Ziggy" has made.

Comparing starters to starters (in my opinion):

Starks = good/serviceable (at best) average (at worst)
Kemo = average (at best) pathetic (at worst)
Pouncey = pro-bowler (at best) good (at worst)
Foster = average (at best) pathetic (at worst)
Colon = good/serviceable (at best) average/pathetic (at worst)
Adams = good/serviceable (at best) average (at worst)

Smith = pro-bowler (at best) good (at worst)
Hampton = great/good (at best) average (at worst)
Keisel = good/serviceable (at best) average (at worst)

I understand Smith and Hampton could be "gone" at any time, but so could Colon and/or Adams. Many players do not recover from achillies injuries. There's no reason to think the already slow-footed Colon will not be even slower once/if he returns. Adams has more mileage than either Smith or Hampton. That leaves us just as vulnerable at RT as it does at LDE or NT if using the same logic. I understand Casey and Aaron are old but at least they are former pro-bowlers. The skill set and experience and technique are there even if the body is fading. Kemo and Foster never had any of those qualities to begin with and never will. That's 40% of our starting OL that flat out sucks. I have to think that OL is a higher immediate need.

Oviedo
12-01-2010, 08:56 AM
1 or 2 DL might actually be more important than 1 or 2 OL this coming draft. This might inspire wild howls of pain from the "We need OL" crew, but this is a team that wins with a stout D & Ben- not through dominance through the OL.

Realistically, Starks & Colon are at the worst- servicable OT's. Same with Kemo at OG. Pouncey looks the goods at OC. Could Foster or Legursky secure the RG spot? That would seem the most immediate need to sort out on OL. drafting a mid-round OT might be in the organisation's best interests- but investing in an early OT might not.

No doubt the attrition rate of our DL this season is alarming. Added to this the attrition rate over the last 3 years & the facts become obvious- fitter bodies are required. In Chadman's opinion, Chris Hoke is one that could be sacrificed for a "Top 3 Round" DL- preferably a guy that can slide inside & out. McLendon will never make us think of Joel Steed or Ray Seals. Punt him for another "Top 3 Round" DL- more the stout DE type. This gives you 3 DL under 30 next season out of a group of 7. Not bad when Eason is just over 30. If Smith is indeed done, it's quite possible that a FA is required, to at the least, rotate into the DL. Hampton should be fine for another year or 2- in fact, he looks pretty good this season. Keisel hasn't really been hit with the injury stick until this season, so we might still see another 2 years of good service in him. Realistically the Steelers have waited 1 or 2 seasons too long to start the rebuilding of the DL, but better late than never.


I agree with some of your points here, but disagree with others...

You're absolutely correct that we have waited a year or two too long to address the DL. But we have waited four to five years too long to address the OL. The problem is that in the last five years, opposing defensive lineman have gotten exponentially bigger, and faster, and more athletic, at the same time as we have gotten less (in all three areas). The lack of talent on the OL is currently effecting ALL aspects of our game. They get virtually no push in the run game and very rarely open any kind of holes. Mendenhall gets hit BEHIND the line of scrimmage on half our run plays. This puts Ben at 3rd and long far too often, and then they can't protect him long enough to execute our passing plays. Then (when we don't sustain drives) it puts our defense back out on the field too early. Our D is not built to stay out there that long. They wear down and lose their explosiveness. I believe that is the primary reason for our failure to hold 4th quarter leads. That is why I put drafting OL as the higher priority. (Again not to say it's the only priority because any rational fan can see how thin and old we are at DL just the higher priority). Look at the difference drafting a first round "Pouncey" has made both in our passing and run game. I would expect drafting his brother to have not only an equal effect but a cumulative effect. On the other hand, look at the difference drafting a first round "Ziggy" has made.

Comparing starters to starters (in my opinion):

Starks = good/serviceable (at best) average (at worst)
Kemo = average (at best) pathetic (at worst)
Pouncey = pro-bowler (at best) good (at worst)
Foster = average (at best) pathetic (at worst)
Colon = good/serviceable (at best) average/pathetic (at worst)
Adams = good/serviceable (at best) average (at worst)

Smith = pro-bowler (at best) good (at worst)
Hampton = great/good (at best) average (at worst)
Keisel = good/serviceable (at best) average (at worst)

I understand Smith and Hampton could be "gone" at any time, but so could Colon and/or Adams. Many players do not recover from achillies injuries. There's no reason to think the already slow-footed Colon will not be even slower once/if he returns. Adams has more mileage than either Smith or Hampton. That leaves us just as vulnerable at RT as it does at LDE or NT if using the same logic. I understand Casey and Aaron are old but at least they are former pro-bowlers. The skill set and experience and technique are there even if the body is fading. Kemo and Foster never had any of those qualities to begin with and never will. That's 40% of our starting OL that flat out sucks. I have to think that OL is a higher immediate need.


I think you can get an OL and DL in the first three picks in no particular order depending on who is best when we draft.

Don't underestimate our need at DB though which may be greater than both OL and DL given how teams are now attacking our defense. Using you same format:

Ike Taylor = Good (at best) above average (at worst)
B Mac = Average (at best) below average (at worst)
Troy = Pro Bowl (at best) very good (at worst)
Clark = Good (at best) slightly below average (at worst)

Gay = Average
Lewis = Average (big unknown)
Madison = Below average
Mundy = Average to below average
Butler = ?????

That is a poor mix for a defense that team are attacking with the pass and not even trying to run against. The situation is made even worse because LeBeau's defense is apparently so complex you can't get a player on the field regularly in less than two years. Even if you got premier talent for the DL and DB in this draft many of the players we just evaluated will be worse or gone.

This is the fatal flaw in LeBeau's defense that we have staring us in the face. As long as it takes two to three years to get a player ready for his defense we have a critical weakness that in the next year or two is going to smack us really bad and we are going to take a major step backwards on the defensive side of the ball. LB is the only unit where we have some youth on track to play. I fear LeBeau has hung onto veterans who do it his way but he is going to walk away and leave us with a mess.