Should the Steelers force Lebeau out?
BY SCOTT SINCLAIR - JAN 23RD, 2014
Well, the Superbowl is set and all of the NFL world got the match-up it wanted from the start as the Seahawks will face off against the Broncos. Anyone who watched the hate fest between the 49ers and Seattle in the NFC championship witnessed the two best defenses in the NFL far and away, coached by two of the brightest and most inventive in the league, Dan Quinn of Seattle and Vic Fangio of the 49ers, both of whom are destined for head coaching jobs someday.
Seattle and San Francisco also have two of the youngest starting defenses, with the Seahawks sporting the more youthful of the two. Both are not afraid to start rookies and incorporate young players in, and because of that, both units play with a passion and intensity unrivaled in today’s NFL.
Hey, Pittsburgh….are you listening???
Six months ago I asked if the Steelers DC Dick Lebeau had become a hindrance to the team. And I was met with a mix of venom and support, with some questioning my sanity. Well, here we are and I am no longer asking the question, I am flat out stating it: much as I like him, Lebeau must go.
For those of us who suffered another playoff-less season, the answer to what ails the team became quite clear with each passing week: the Steelers defense has become a major weakness. Age and poor personnel decisions have hurt what was once the best unit in the NFL. Some of that can be attributed to GM Kevin Colbert for not finding proper replacements for departed starters like Aaron Smith, Keenan Allen, Casey Hampton, etc. However, much of the “blame” can also be applied to Lebeau who seemingly has an allergy to letting rookies or young players play right away. We all know Lebeau’s complex schemes play a role in that, he feels a player needs to sit and watch and learn for three years or so before they can make a contribution. Two examples of this are Jason Worilds and Cam Heyward who barely played their first few years, yet enjoyed solid 2013 campaigns once given playing time. And 2013 first rounder Jarvis Jones did start the season with the first team, but didn’t have the impact the team envisioned. Yes, missing time to injury did not help, but how much did Lebeau hold Jones back?
At 76, Lebeau has nothing left to prove. He’s a Hall of Famer and deservedly so. I still feel he is one of, if not the most influential DCs of all time. However, at this point, he would benefit the team by stepping aside and letting a younger coach step in (Keith Butler? Carnell Lake?) and invigorate this team. As of this moment, the Steelers front office and Lebeau have been silent on what his status will be for 2014. By all accounts, this silence may mean more of the status quo for a team loathe to change, which is a bad thing if they are to become a playoff contender again. The 2013 Steeler defense was ugly to watch, giving up big plays and big points, including 55 to New England, not creating turnovers until their fifth game of the year against the Jets, allowing too many big plays and so on. Worse yet, they no longer strike fear into their opposition, as Tom Jackson of NFL countdown pointed out this past year when he said “nobody fears the Steelers defense anymore, they don’t intimidate like they did.” Like it or not, Jackson is spot on.
There are many decisions to be made regarding the defense this off season, namely what to do with the hefty contracts of Lamar Woodley (thanks Colbert!) and Troy Polamalu, who we know refuses to take a pay cut. Add in free agents to be Ryan Clark, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel and Jason Worilds and there is reason to be concerned about the future of the Steelers defense. The biggest question may be what will Lebeau do and what should the team do about LeBeau. Should they ask him to step down for the good of the team? As I said and as we all know, they do not like to make changes in the staff unless forced to. And even though he turned down the Titans’ offer, how much longer can a guy like Butler stick around? Those in the know have said for a while that Butler would make a good DC, heck even giving Lake a shot would be good. But something tells me that unless something dramatic happens, LeBeau will be back in 2014. And so will a mediocre defense.