Remember--we were (as I remember) on a historic pace when it came to creating turnovers. Or should I say, NOT creating turnovers. Our takeaway total was morbidly low, especially considering our lofty defensive ranking. That's what we've always had, and it would bail us out of jams.
Against the Texans, they'd march up and down the field. And without the takeaways, we were powerless against them. It's not just "one game"... that game highlighted our deficiencies.
Smith went down--we replaced him with a first-round pick (Hood).
Woodley went down--we replaced him with a second-round pick (Worilds).
Harrison went down--we replaced him with a first-round pick (Timmons).
To fill Timmons' slot, we plugged in a well-versed vet (Foote).
In other words, there was a reasonable expectation that our D produce. It was a chance for those (young) players to SHINE. And for the most part, they didn't. Hood did nothing to distinguish himself. Worilds proved himself capable, but not much else. Timmons went to a spot that a lot of us thought he'd actually thrive, and he turned out to just be serviceable. These are the things I'm talking about.
Citing injuries (again, that every NFL team faces) is a cop-out, to a degree. Especially considering that we had (what we thought or think) good prospect in the wings. It didn't work out that way.
Our D ranked well but if you watch certain games you can't help but see a few glaring holes.
The Steelers had to sell out to stop Ray Rice in several situations. That opened up play action and unibrow burned us.
The Steelers had to sell out to stop the Broncos running attack and we all know how that went.
The Steelers had a hard time stopping the Texans and I wasn't happy w/ the way the D played against the Rams. There are others as well.
I can't remember the last time this team had to sell out to stop the run. I also can't remember the last time the Steelers had to send the entire house to get pressure on the QB. That tells me that this team isn't winning one-on-one battles.
And every time the Steelers need a big play, our only hope is Polamalu. Harrison is second. This team is WAAYY too dependent on Polamalu's play. Granted Harrison and Woodley sometimes come up w/ the big play but they need to be more consistent. I'm still waiting for those "splash" plays from Timmons that Tomlin referenced when we drafted him.
I don't believe this is a critical year for Lebeau. The defense generally played well last season. Lebeau may decide to retire after this season regardless of what happens.
I don't think we had to sell out to stop the Bronco's... that was more of an spread-option problem and we weren't ready for it. Harrison was abused on a few plays and they didn't even block him.
I think the real issue is depending on Troy anytime we need a TO.
..and Ike Taylor SUCKS at locating the ball
Granted we do not have a perfect defense and in this day and age where everything favors the offense we never will. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me who has had a better defense over the last 5 years. Please!! Anybody?
We can sit here and b!tch and moan all day about the flaws our defense has but when you arguably have the best in the league you just sound like a bunch of whiners. Last year many here were telling us how great Green Bays defense is and why can't LeBeau use rookies like Capers has done. What a crock of crap that turned out to be. Now I'm starting to here how great the Giants defense is and how we should go to the 4-3 just like them. Do you know how bad they played the first 3/4s of the year? How many times did Manning have to lead them back in the 4th qtr because the Giant defense had gotten them into such a deep hole? They got hot at the end of the season just like we did in 2005.
Some of the criticism of LeBeau is just crazy. We didn't send the inside backers often enough on a blitz ... Huh? Do ya think there might be a reason for that? Maybe the other team (yes, they have players also) kept a back and a tight end in to watch for that. Maybe it was because we didn't have the correct personnel on the field to make it work. Timmons and Farrior are great at that blitz package but Timmons played half the season on the outside and Farrior only played about half of his normal plays and he has lost a step.
Then I hear stuff like he shouldn't have his defense depend so much on Troy. WTF? You have one of the greatest defensive players in the league on your team but we shouldn't use him to his maximum ability. Are you folks crazy? [sarcasm]I guess Baltimore should start playing Ed Reed up at the line of scrimmage so they don't get so used to him playing center field and making interceptions.[/sarcasm] Yes, when Troy is out it hurts our defense. The same as it hurts San Frans defense when Willis is out or Detroits defense isn't so good with Suh suspended. To not use every bit of Troy's smarts and athletic ability is ludicrous and I can't believe anyone would even suggest it.
You're missing the point on Polamalu.
No one is saying we shouldn't let him do what he does best. People are just saying that he is seemingly our only chance at creating a big-play on D. Completely different argument.
You also made a point about unrealistic expectations (about "dominant" defenses being antiquated notion). 2008 wasn't that long ago, and that defense was dominant. The 49ers were close to that level last year. There's still a solid place for defenses to excel in the NFL.
And for the record, I'm not one of those who always bemoans LeBeau's "10-yard cushions" or other stuff. I respect the coach completely. But this is a big year for a 70-something year old coach, coming off a lackluster (for him) season. Another year like that or worse (which is actually quite likely, if you consider defensive ranking), and you know people will be saying the game has passed him by.