On the Steelers: Stocking stuffers
Weekly look inside the team, the issues & the questions
Sunday, December 27, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
• There was a flood of e-mails last year that posed this question: Which defense was better, the one in the 1970s or the one in 2008. There never was a comparison, the 1970s ruled, but that 2008 defense was as dominant as there has been here perhaps in a long time, better for one season than any in the 1990s. It just did not take long for it to vanish.
• Many tried to tag that 2008 defense with a catchy nickname, none that anyone can remember. Some still called it the Steel Curtain, but there was only one of those in one era. Just as there was only one Blitzburgh in 1994 and 1995. Now there is a new nickname developing for the current defense: The Rust Belt.
• Here are four reasons for the decline of the defense from last season to this: Larry Foote, Bryant McFadden, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu. While the free agency era requires each team to manage the ebb and flow of talent, it has become apparent the Steelers' defense has not been able to cover up for the loss of those four players.
• There has been no greater evidence of Polamalu's worth to the Steelers' defense than this season.
• The Steelers undervalued Bryant McFadden and overvalued William Gay. The two shared the position last season and it worked. It is not working this season to the point that Deshea Townsend will replace Gay at left cornerback today. Gay might have been a year away from being ready to start. At this point, that is what the Steelers must hope.
• McFadden did not get great money to sign with Arizona, a reported $5 million over two years. He left because the Steelers would not guarantee him the starting job at cornerback.
• They also might have been better served letting Keyaron Fox play the Larry Foote role and Lawrence Timmons play the nickel as he did so well last season.
• There is only one way for the Steelers to make the playoffs and for them to make any headway in them if they do. They must get into shootouts. Throw the ball all over the place. It is their only chance and their coach told us he recognizes this after trying that onside kick.
• Rashard Mendenhall showed last Sunday why he now is their third-down back.
• Had they beaten the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers would need no help as long as they won these final two games. This is more like 1989 when they won their final three games and needed virtual miracles all over the place. They all came through for them.
• I once saw it snow in Tampa the night before a Steelers game there on Christmas Eve. It was as unlikely a scene as the Steelers making the playoffs. It was 1989 and both happened.
• Six games without an interception and counting. The Steelers have eight total this season. Baltimore had eight in its past three games alone. No Steelers team in the past 40 years has gone without a cornerback having an interception somewhere along the line. This one is steaming toward that dubious distinction of getting shut out for a full season.
• Sorry, but fans are not the most adept at picking all-star teams. Troy Polamalu, who has missed nine full games and virtually 11, leads the fans' Pro Bowl vote at strong safety with the third-most votes on defense.
• James Harrison is the other Steelers player the fans have voted No. 1 at his position and if he were not allowed by NFL officials to be held by tall tackles every time he rushes, he would have twice as many sacks.
• Former Detroit coach Marty Mornhinweg, after the Lions won the coin toss to start an overtime period, chose to take the wind rather than the ball. Had the Lions won, Mornhinweg would have been roundly applauded for making such a smart choice on a windy day. Alas, the Lions lost without ever getting the ball in overtime and Mornhinweg's decision was ridiculed.
• Here's something different: Go for it on fourth-and-10. Instead of kicking, go for two points after each touchdown. You want something different? Onside kicks with a two-point lead and four minutes left is child's play.
• What could Mike Tomlin do next that goes against the coaching book? He already has that onside kick and the 2-point try from 12 yards against Jacksonville in his first playoff game, so he's capable of stretching the logic. In his next overtime game, he could choose to kick off; after all, the Steelers won the coin toss in their past two overtime games, against Kansas City and Baltimore, took the ball and lost. There's always the fake punt; we haven't seen that yet.
• Ray Rice was drafted on the second round the same year Rashard Mendenhall was drafted on the first. Tomlin on Tuesday said "He's rounding out a complete game and is becoming a guy that can help us in all areas, similar to what Ray Rice is doing in Baltimore." And that is no knock on Mendenhall.
• Bill Cowher would be a nice fit in Dallas, and Jerry Jones has the money to pay him. He wants $10 million, annually.
• When the Steelers were for sale, there were many e-mails suggesting they sell stock to their fans, the way the Green Bay Packers are owned. With yet another investor coming aboard this week, it appears they have been doing that.
• You would think Dennis Dixon might get involved in the offense a little bit after his performance in Baltimore. He has not seen the field since. If you lined him up in the backfield next to Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun, the defense would not know what is coming. Cleveland would have been a nice time to try that.
Where's Dennis Dixon been?
Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote, Aaron Smith and Bryant McFadden are the reasons for the Steelers' decline on defense
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