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hawaiiansteel
01-01-2012, 02:23 PM
On the Steelers: '11 defense makes no sense at all

Sunday, January 01, 2012
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/images/201112/troy0101_160.jpg

Troy Polamalu - only member of defense to earn Pro Bowl nod


Some of the great mysteries and dichotomies of the Steelers' 2011 season can be found in the play of their defense.

That defense has produced only 33 sacks and 14 turnovers. To compare, they had 48 sacks and 35 turnovers last season. Their four miserable fumble recoveries will set a new franchise low by far unless they gather more than double that today.

Yet this defense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 2 in points allowed, but despite those rankings produced only one Pro Bowl player -- the perennial appearance of Troy Polamalu.

None of it adds up, even to some who play in that defense.

"I don't know how we've been doing it," said defensive captain James Farrior. "But it's definitely been a good thing for us that we have those good numbers because the other stuff is down this year. We don't have a finger on why it's down, but it is. We're just playing good football overall. Hopefully, the turnovers will come when we really need it."

The defenders don't worry much about the lower numbers in sacks, partly because they say opposing quarterbacks are releasing their passes more quickly. They do have concerns about how few turnovers they have managed.

No team in the league has fewer than their 14, although New Orleans also has only 14. Miami is the only team with fewer fumble recoveries (3).

Since 1966, when the Steelers could start finding records on such matters, they have never had fewer than nine fumble recoveries in a full season. It occurred in '68 and more recently in 2006 and '08. They had eight in '82, a season shortened by a strike to nine games.

For perspective, in a single game against Cleveland in 1990, the Steelers came up with eight fumble recoveries.

There is no explaining it.

"We have certainly talked about it," coordinator D!ck LeBeau said. "For whatever reason, we didn't have that many this year, but we still have a lot of football left to play."

It's hard to argue with their success. After all, what's more important than a stingy defense when it comes to points? How about one that also scores some? One of those four fumble recoveries was crucial in a road victory this season. James Harrison sacked Indianapolis quarterback Curtis Painter, who fumbled, and Troy Polamalu picked up the loose ball and ran 16 yards for a touchdown that snapped a 13-13 tie with 5:13 left.

They could have used one or two more like that, safety Ryan Clark said.

"We've played good football. We've stopped teams. We just aren't getting turnovers," Clark said. "It's a weird deal. We're happy we're stopping teams, but I think we win one other game if we get a turnover."

Certainly one turnover could have affected two losses, 17-10 at Houston and 23-20 to Baltimore.

Splash plays about substance, too

Polamalu is the only Steelers defender to make the Pro Bowl, although others could be named later such as linebacker James Harrison, a first alternate.

Part of the reason might be the lack of those turnovers and so few sacks. It might be no coincidence that Polamalu's flashy play, including the one against the Colts, gets him on the highlights more often. Last season, defensive end Brett Keisel made the Pro Bowl after getting the call as the first alternate in a season in which he returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown at Tampa Bay.

Keisel is a third alternate this time, even though by many accounts he is having his best season, better than 2010. He has 36 quarterback pressures compared with 12 last season. He has the same number of sacks (3) but already has 10 more tackles at 45 with a game to go. He has eight pass deflections, several of which wound up as interceptions for others, compared with six last season. He also recovered a fumble, which he did not last season.

"Splash plays are what get guys in the Pro Bowl," Clark said.

You can't sack what you can't catch

The Steelers probably won't top last year's sack total of 48 -- "We are 16 behind and we are hoping to be catching it this week," LeBeau cracked.

If they do not get a few, those 33 sacks will represent their lowest output since they managed just 19 in 1988.

Several reasons are offered, including the combined absence in 10 games of their top two pass rushers -- outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley -- that will reach 11 today when Woodley does not play.

"I think the sacks kind of go along with the turnovers in a sense of, when James and La-Marr are getting to the quarterback, they create fumbles," Clark said.

Woodley, who had nine sacks after eight games before his hamstring went on the fritz, believes quarterbacks are more aware of the pass rush and design plays and pay more attention to throwing the ball more quickly to avoid it.

"They know the kind of pressure we bring so they've been doing a good job of getting rid of the ball," Woodley said. "It's not like teams have been holding the ball for 4, 5 seconds, allowing us to get back there.

"I don't care who you are, you could be the best pass rusher ever, you're not going to get a sack if the quarterback is holding the ball only 2-3 seconds."

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hawaiiansteel
01-01-2012, 03:12 PM
Run down: Steelers rush defense not up to standard

By Mark Kaboly, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, December 31, 2011

http://files.pittsburghlive.com/photos/2011-12-30/1231stdefense-a.jpg

One thing about D!ck 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

2004 357 1,299 81.2 first 16
2005 402 1,376 86.0 third 11
2006 408 1,412 88.3 third 8
2007 361 1,438 89.9 third 16
2008 390 1,284 80.3 second 4
2009 372 1,438 89.9 third 13
2010 333 1,004 62.8 first 5
2011* 409 1,627 101.6 ninth 16
* -- 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."

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Oviedo
01-01-2012, 03:39 PM
Imagine how well we would be doing if the defense had been up to standards WRT sacks and takeaways?

Do what we need to do to get the pressure and sacks and the other takeaways will follow. Need to blitz more.

Ghost
01-02-2012, 12:28 AM
It makes sense - they feasted on terrible teams. 7 teams with a losing reord and 1 with a .500. That's half a season against losers - three of the 7 were the worst teams in the entire league: Indy, St. Louis, Jacksonville.

NorthCoast
01-02-2012, 02:33 PM
A noticeably more passive pass rush is likely a big factor here. Wish I could find the stats for % of defensive blitzing but I would guess this season is not up to the usual level. Having two of the best LBs out for various amounts of time is also a huge factor. Before Woodley's injury, he had started to pick up his game quite a bit and was becoming a lone wrecking crew. Even if he comes back for the next game, I would guess he will not be in the same mode as when he left (it seems to take him a month or two to get his motor going).

pittpete
01-02-2012, 03:22 PM
Two numbers
-13 and 14.2
That my friends is amazing.... :shock: