There have been many question marks concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers defense this year. Although they have won 11 games this year, there have been some elements that have left fans scratching their heads. Some inconsistencies have stood out and need to be fixed before the games mean more than just another loss, those losses to come will signal the end of their season and hopes at returning to the Super Bowl.
Stopping The Run – The inconsistencies of note have been their inability to slow down big name backs this season. Those who have burdened the Steelers were backs on good teams like Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, Arian Foster of the Houston Texans, and Stephen Jackson of the St. Louis Rams. Each had over 100 yards on the Steelers defense, also even though Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers didn't break 100, he still averaged 4.6 yards per carry against the Steelers. This is beyond the point of it just being a phase. It is an epidemic that needs corrected sooner than later. What if the Steelers face the Denver Broncos in the first round and take on Willis McGahee or end up facing the Oakland Raiders and their explosive running game with Darren McFadden if he is healthy. These are two backs that can hurt the Steelers if they don't get this thing figured out.
Part of the problem unfolded in week one when the Ravens unveiled the zone blocking strategy of taking down the Steelers. They chopped, cut and held their way to the opening day victory. The tone was set on the very first play from scrimmage when Rice he busted off 36 yards and from there the Steelers problems with running games began. While they seemed to correct it over their 11 wins there were times when they struggled, for example against the Jacksonville Jaguars they allowed Maurice Jones-Drew average 4.4 yards per carry as he finished with 96 yards rushing.
Another factor is teams with strong offensive lines have had their way with running against the Steelers, we'll see if they will be able to figure this out or if it will ultimately be their demise.
Secondary - The secondary has played well as they are statistically one of the best against the pass in the league, but there have been times when meltdowns have lead to problems. For example the game against the Cincinnati Bengals when they allowed AJ Green score in triple coverage. While Green made an awesome play between Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, their have been breakdowns. Even though both Steelers safeties are on the Pro Bowl roster they need to elevate their games quickly.
While the Steelers have faired well against receivers they can't figure out how to cover a tight end. From week one of this has been a major problem that has yet to be corrected. Most recently it was Vernon Davis of the Niners who made his mark against them. The Steelers couldn't find an answer and this is a factor that can spell disaster in the playoffs.
For some reason this seems to be where the zone coverage fails as tight ends from Dennis Pita to Owen Daniels to Vernon Davis, they've all had success against the Steelers. What will it take to get this issue resolved?
Pressure – Who would have ever thought the Steelers defense would have problems getting pressure on quarterbacks? This has been a new issue that has come to their forefront this season. Opposing teams are using quick drops and quick routes to beat the Steelers and its working. Look at what both Andy Dalton and Alex Smith have done against the Steelers. They both were able to use quick drops to move the ball down field with success. The 49ers made it look easy a few weeks ago as they were able to dink and dunk pass into the flat without being victimized by the pass rush.
Dick Lebeau has to find a way to fix this issue as more teams will attack the Steelers in this manner in the playoffs. Also a big factor in a lack of pass rush has not having both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in the starting lineup together at the same time for much of the season. If the Steelers are able to get Woodley back once that hamstring heals it could be exact thing that could separate them from the rest of the teams in the playoffs.
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