LeBeau facing critical year in 2012
LeBeau facing critical year in 2012
April 9, 2012 Posted by Marc Uhlmann
You can hardly blame anyone associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers for talking mostly about the offense during the offseason of 2012.
After all, from red zone failures to Bruce Arians’ ‘retirement’ and the eventual hiring of Todd Haley, there has been much to discuss.
I believe there is one guy in particular who has to be downright giddy over this even though he is the coordinator on the other side of the ball. Why might you ask would D!ck LeBeau be thrilled that very little attention is being paid to his version of the ‘Steel Curtain?’ Probably because LeBeau knows that anything said about the ‘D’ would not exactly be glowing with accolades right now.
Our last vision of the NFL’s top-rated defense from 2011 was that of Damaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos stiff-arming Ike Taylor as if he were a father stiff-arming his 10-year old son. Thomas would score on that play, the first of overtime and perhaps even worse, the play would set the Tim Tebow fire into an all-out inferno as the favored Steelers’ limped off the field in defeat.
There is plenty of blame to go around for that defeat and it includes the offense which sputtered on two opening drives that started so promising and resulted in two Shaun Suisham field goals. The defense however, exhibited a pattern that some could trace back to the victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII in which it blew a 20-7 second half lead before being saved by the heroics of Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes.
It was not the only time Roethlisberger and the offense bailed out LeBeau’s defense either. We’ve seen it all too often the last few years. I know it sounds like I’m bashing LeBeau and I suppose in some ways I am but to be clear, I really do like and respect ‘Coach Dad’ very, very much. He is an incredible innovator and is known for being a solid tactician on the sidelines and no assistant coach has ever had his players’ respect the way LeBeau garners it.
The problem is that being a number one defense is not what it once was. The two Super Bowl participants this past season both had defenses that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in total defense.
The Green Bay Packers, the best team throughout much of the season, also were ranked low. I’m not suggesting that defenses become “average,” but I am suggesting that perhaps the time has come for an overhaul of the D!ck LeBeau 3-4 defense as we’ve known it.
Following the victory over New England during the 2011 regular season, many people believed that LeBeau was finally making the proper adjustments to handle a quick passing game. He had defensive backs jamming Patriots’ receivers at the line, especially in the slot. The pass rush was actually pretty good too until LaMarr Woodley went down with his hamstring injury. Keep in mind that the Steelers were #1 overall and against the pass, but their numbers against the rush dropped significantly.
LeBeau now faces a 2012 without James Farrior and without Aaron Smith. He obviously knows how to adapt with Smith out, but Farrior being gone will a major adjustment. Whether it’s Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester or a newcomer, that individual will not have the leadership skills and knowledge of Farrior.
William Gay, last season’s starter at the left cornerback spot is now in Pittsburgh West, otherwise known as Arizona. LeBeau will need to decide between Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen or Curtis Brown. Many think Allen’s future is at safety, but any way you slice it, there were will be question marks at that position.
Factor in an aging and rehabilitating Casey Hampton at nose and the tenuous at best health of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison and for that matter, Woodley and LeBeau could be using duct tape and glue to keep the ‘D’ in shape. Let’s say the defense stays healthy for the most part in 2012, what does LeBeau need to do eliminate the comebacks and big plays that often nipped at this squad last season?
My first thought is pressure. We saw much less of the famed ‘X Fire’ stunt by the middle linebackers this season and when we did, it was relatively ineffective. Perhaps it is becoming too predictable? One of the other things we saw less of was corner blitzes. With Gay no longer in the slot and one of the team’s best blitzers, that part of the scheme was gone and it showed.
Cam Heyward showed some great promise at times as a rookie in 2011, but he’ll be depended on for more consistency in both the rush and allowing the outside backers to be more successful as well. Ziggy Hood is in a similar boat in terms of finding consistency.
Strategically, LeBeau must improve this team on 3rd downs. The Steelers gave up way too many conversions especially in 3rd and long situations. For a defense that is going to again be one of the older ones, this area has to improve.
I realize that in some ways it could be a lot worse. We could have a defense that resembles a complete and total failure like so many other teams in the league. We still have a solid core and I trust that LeBeau recognizes the deficiencies of his defense and will make the necessary adjustments. Unfortunately, LeBeau has some physical and just as importantly, some mental rehab to do on this defense. There is no question that the loss in Denver was bad, but how it lost is what triggers the most mentally unstable episodes for fans and players.
What we need to see is the fire and relentless nature of the Steelers’ defense for four quarters, not just when ‘Renegade’ plays at Heinz Field. We need to see stops on third downs and more creativity in blitz packages. Being the number one defense doesn’t mean anything if you are exiting the playoffs in the Wild-Card Round.
This past off-season, Bruce Arians was the easy and for the most part, well-deserved target of the Steeler Nation’s rage over the early post-season departure. While D!ck LeBeau is well-respected and well-liked, even the ‘Nation has limits to how much it can handle. Coach LeBeau needs to get this defense back to being unpredictable, frenzied and violent or more big plays and blown leads could lead to his ‘retirement’ in 2013.
Wow, much of this sounds familiar. "More pressure from middle LBs." "More blitzes." "Being the number one defense is not what it use to be." Where have I heard or read this?
However why bother recognizing any of this because anyone who does is just a "hater" of "Coach Dad."
I didn't read the entire article. As soon as it started talking about the Denver game I knew it was going to be a shortsighted article. That game left a bad taste in everyones mouth, but it definitely does not represent the way our defense played all season. It doesn't take into account the orbital eye injury and issues with Harrison. It doesn't address the hamstring issue with Woodley. It doesn't address Timmons playing out of position much of the season. Hell it doesn't even address the torn groin Keisel had in the bronco game. Or the Torn ACL Hampton suffered. Or the fact Clark didn't play. That's three guys righ there that were important in that one game that missed most of it. Considering the difficulties the defense faced all season, I have very little complaint in Lebeau's defense. on the other hand, I can say that our defense has been consistently great year in and year out. while on offense the only thing that's consistent is the inconsistency. be it O-line play, injuries, or play calling.
Originally Posted by Oviedo
But it's not to say our D is anywhere near what we'd like...
Originally Posted by birtikidis
The stats (i.e. rankings) say we are a great defense. We know the truth... or we should. You're right: that DEN game was an abomination. The telling game was that Texans game, early in the season. In that game, we had Hampton; we had Farrior; we had Harrison (who I think got hurt in that game, but tried to play still--what a warrior!); I can't remember if we had Woodley (probably nursing his hammy again)... but anyway, our D was basically intact. And we got dominated. Not only dominated--dominated by having the ball crammed down our throats... to the tune of 5+ yards per carrry I'm guessing.
That game told us what we needed to know. That's why people are overreacting to that debacle of a game and effort against Denver. (I still haven't forgiven Ike Taylor. Horrible. He should shut his mouth from now til he retires, when he claims to be underappreciated in this league.) If not for that Texan game, people wouldn't be so much on the warpath for results.
I agree that it's a show-me year for LeBeau. Every year is a show-me year when you are 70+, because it could go at any time (mentally and physically... after all, we know what a grind NFL coaches go through. I can't imagine a 70-year old man having the stamina of long days, of a 40-year old).
Granted it wasn't our best season on defense. But to dog on them given that Timmons and Worilds were our starting OLB for several games and just the fact that age had caught up to Farrior provides a pretty good explanation why you didn't see some things. Also, putting gay at the #2 corner and putting rookies in as the 3/4 spot is going to limit some of what you can do.
Hall of Famer
And there's that...
Originally Posted by birtikidis
Overcoming injuries can be very difficult. We had to do it a lot on the OL and the LB corps. At 12-4, I would say that they performed admirably.
One thing I like about fellow Steelers fans is that while we all know that we can't win the SB every year, we still expect to. It has it's pitfalls, but I'll take it over the mindset I see from the Bengals/Browns/Colts fans that surround me.
Hall of Famer
The Texans game was earlier in the season. We adjusted and moved on. IMO, you have to take the year as a whole and not get overly excited about the best or worst but see where you really stand. The statistics by and large speak the truth: the 2011 Steelers D was one of the best in the NFL.
Remember, at one point we were a game away from being a top seed. Had Baltimore not put that almost unthinkable last second TD on us, we probably would have had a bye and some time to heal a little. In other words, this team wasn't far off from another SB.
I am taking the year as a whole, and the Texans game highlighted it.
Originally Posted by Sugar
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.
Hall of Famer
I have to disagree, it was indeed just one game. Sure, we didn't get the takeaways we normally do. However, we played much of the year with the LB corps in disarray. Didn't Timmons play four different positions in four weeks? In fact, I think there may have been a game where he played three out of the four in the same game. Ostensibly, injuries aren't controllable so I can't get too upset about that.
Originally Posted by Shoe
Sure, we had injuries (like every other team does BTW). But I think using that as the reason is a scapegoat, and it hides our real defensive deficencies. In other words, put our best 11 out there today (and assuming good health), I suspect that we will see a similarly flawed defense--as opposed to the dominant unit we all would like to see (e.g. 2008 team).
Originally Posted by Sugar
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.