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The biggest problem of all in 2013
by Ray Fittipaldo
I wrote about it in the paper today, but itís worth revisiting because it illustrates how hard the Steelers defense has fallen in such little time.
Allowing big plays continues to be this teamís Achilles Heel. Gerry Dulac did the research and wrote a story on this after the Patriots debacle last month, so Iíll just add up the past four games to bring you the up-to-date dirty details.
The Steelers have allowed 11 plays of 50 yards or more this season, including one more Sunday, which ended up being the biggest play of the game. Daniel Thomas, a reserve who has 384 yards rushing this season, gained 105 against the Steelers, 55 on a dash that set up Miamiís winning touchdown with a little more than three minutes remaining.
Not allowing big plays and making teams drive the length of the field to beat them is the basic principle of the Steelers defense.
Here is how far the mighty have fallen: In 2011, the Steelers were No. 1 in the league in total defense and scoring defense and allowed only two passes of 40 yards or longer and one run 50 yards or longer. Thomasí run was the fourth of 55 yards or longer this season. There have been seven passes of 50 or longer.
Here is the kicker, in Tomlinís first six seasons as head coach, the Steelers allowed 18 plays or 50 yards or longer.
Injuries and age have caught up to the defense in 2013. And here are the ugly statistics to back it up:
*After being No. 1 in the league in total defense last season they are No. 12 today and allowing 342 yards per game, 67 more than they allowed last season.
*After finishing sixth in the league in scoring defense in 2012, allowing 19.6 points per game, the Steelers are allowing 24 per game this season and ranked 16th in the league, the definition of mediocrity in the NFL.
Ugly stats indeed.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
I though the most interesting postgame quote came from Thomas, the running back from Miami, who said of Ryan Clark on his 55-yard run: ďI was looking at the defender. I think it was Ryan Clark. He looked like he really didnít want to tackle me, so I tried to make something happen. Mike Wallace made another block and that was it.Ē
Clark had a different version of events. The reason he didnít try to tackle Thomas, he said, was because he tried to prevent a touchdown run down the sideline. He was lined up deep on the play because the coaches believed the Dolphins would go for a big passing play because it was second-and-1. Once he saw Thomas break through the front seven his mission was to force Thomas back to the center of the field where pursuing teammates could make a play.
Clarkís decision might have been correct. He could not have anticipated Ike Taylor slipping and falling down and Thomas gaining another 20 yards or so. Maybe Clark took a cue from his teammates. He saw how they tackled all day and figured he didn't have much of a shot to make a play either.
I just thought Thomasí assertion that Clark didnít want a piece of him was telling. Once upon a time Clark could lay the lumber with the best of them in the NFL. Just ask Willis McGahee. Now someone named Daniel Thomas is questioning his desire to come up and make a tackle.
MORE NO-NAME NONSENSE
Thomas wasnít the only Miami player made to look like a Hall of Famer Sunday. Another unknown player named Charles Clay, a third-year tight end from Tulsa, was made to look like John Mackey the way he rumbled through the Steelers defense.
Sometimes, the Steelers ignored him like when a defender was not within 20 yards of him on his first touchdown. They did it again when he got wide open for a 20-yard gain a little later. On another, he streaked down the sideline and beat cornerback Cortez Allen for a 40-yard gain to set up another touchdown. On another he caught a pass in the flat, made Troy Polamalu miss and picked up an important first down on third-[/B]and-long. And on the winning touchdown, he broke tackles from Allen and Polamalu to score the decisive points with 3:02 left on the clock.
The Dolphins have been using Clay much more in the passing game in the past month, but itís worth noting he was a sixth-round pick that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to hold to 21 yards receiving a month ago. The Carolina Panthers held him to 27 yards two weeks ago. Against the Steelers he had 97 yards and two touchdowns.
It's not just the Calvin Johnsons who are having big days against the Steelers. It's the Charles Clays and Kenbrell Thompkins of the world, too. That should scare the Steelers more than anything.
WTF type of sh#t journalism is this? Clark was laying wood all day... sometimes he takes bad angles. Why would he not want to tackle a RB on the biggest series of the day?I just thought Thomas’ assertion that Clark didn’t want a piece of him was telling. Once upon a time Clark could lay the lumber with the best of them in the NFL. Just ask Willis McGahee. Now someone named Daniel Thomas is questioning his desire to come up and make a tackle.
I was looking at the defender. I think it was Ryan Clark. He looked like he really didnít want to tackle me, so I tried to make something happen. Mike Wallace made another block and that was it.Ē
This is a total bull sh*t statement. We're talking about the same Clark who previously got called (incorrectly) for laying the wood to a supposedly defenseless WR. He may not have the same speed or coverage skills but Clark has never been afraid to tackle. To say otherwise is silly and ignorant.
Steelers Notebook: Defense blown open again
December 8, 2013
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Allowing big plays has been a weakness for the Steelers all season, and on Sunday, three more cost them dearly in their 34-28 loss at Heinz Field. The Steelers gave up 360 yards to the Dolphins, and 143 of those came on three plays.
That's 40 percent of Miami's offense on a trio of plays that helped the Dolphins score 17 points.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill ran 48 yards in the first quarter to set up a Caleb Sturgis field goal, the first points of the game for Miami.
Tannehill completed a 40-yard pass to Charles Clay on third-and-4 in the third quarter. The Dolphins scored a touchdown four plays later when Brian Hartline caught a 4-yard pass from Tannehill.
And finally, the biggest play of all was a Daniel Thomas 55-yard run that set up a Clay touchdown catch with 3:02 left.
"We gave up the big plays," outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "As a defense, we can't do that. We gave them up at the wrong time and they capitalized on it."
Thomas' long run was the 11th play of 50 yards or more against the Steelers this season.
"When they needed stops, they got stops, and when they needed big plays, they got big plays," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "I thought we had a chance to close the door, but we just didn't capitalize on it. We just didn't get the job done. You have to tip your hat them."
Pittsburgh defense not good anymore
December 9, 2013
The Altoona Mirror
PITTSBURGH - For the second consecutive game, sideline navigation was an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last time, it was coach Mike Tomlin's inability to stay on the sideline. This time is was Antonio Brown's inability to stay on the field that was the problem.
Brown inexplicably stepped out of bounds on his way to the end zone, thwarting a possible miracle finish for the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.
Instead, it was just another disappointment in a season that's had too many of them for the Steelers.
The 34-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins dropped the Steelers to 5-8, and just about killed their faint hopes to reach the postseason.
They can do no better than match last year's 8-8 record, although no logical Steelers fan should root for that.
The team's long-term interest would be best served by a 5-11 final record, which would improve their drafting position and start the much-needed rebuilding.
Is there any doubt that should be focused on the defense?
The Steelers aren't what they used to be, and that's most glaring on the defensive side.
Maybe it all started with that drive Joe Flacco led on Nov. 6, 2011 to give the Baltimore Ravens a last-second victory at Heinz Field. Whatever the case, the Steelers aren't as fearsome at the end of games as they once were. That's mostly because they don't stop people the way they used to.
It looked as though the Steelers had taken control of Sunday's game when Troy Polamalu picked off a pass, and precisely lifted the ball over the pylon to score a touchdown.
Instead, the Dolphins came right back with an 80-yard scoring drive.
On what proved to be the winning touchdown, Miami's Charles Clay shook off two tackle attempts by Cortez Allen and one by Polamalu to score.
For all the screaming that has been done this season about offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Steelers are actually in sad shape on defense.
It isn't a question of the game zooming past 75-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. It's a matter of having enough talented players to make schemes work.
Long plays used to be a rarity against the Steelers. On Sunday, Daniel Thomas ran 55 yards to set up the winning touchdown. Miami center Mike Pouncey flattened Polamalu with a block to help open the path for Thomas.
The Steelers' secondary has gotten torched this season. The defensive line, with the exception of the emerging Cameron Heyward, is ordinary on its best day. The linebackers aren't much better.
There's simply too big a talent gap.
For all the problems on offense, you can still make the case that Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller and Brown are among the best at their respective positions.
Can you say that about anybody on defense?
The Steelers weren't mathematically eliminated from postseason contention with Sunday's loss. The NFL sells hope, and that plays in some markets where success is uncommon.
But Steelers fans know what championship-caliber teams look like, and they know the 2013 edition is far from that standard.
If that circus play at the end would have worked, it would have been a spectacular finish that would have been replayed for years. Instead, it was just another tease.
The Steelers sent the crowd into the cold night with more reason to be frustrated. This isn't a playoff team, no matter what the math might say at the moment.
Let this season end on Dec. 29 with the home game against Cleveland, and get to work on next season starting early on Dec. 30.
There's a lot to fix, and it starts on defense.