Why Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh Steelers' Defense No Longer Scare Anyone in NFL

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Why Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh Steelers' Defense No Longer Scare Anyone in NFL
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Dick Lebeau and the Pittsburgh Steelers defense have clearly not been your typical Steel Curtain through five games of the 2012 NFL season.

Allowing an average of 23 points per game thus far, the Steelers aren't playing consistently, and it's no surprise they're 2-3. What is surprising, though, is giving up an average of 4.1 yards per carry, which ranks No. 18 in the league.

That's definitely not typical of a Steelers or Lebeau-coached defense; yet here we are, along with Pittsburgh also being 0-3 in road games. To that end, opponents have displayed some exploits of Pittsburgh's defense and it's a big part of why the Steelers have disappointed into October.

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Age and Injuries are Catching Up

This is one area where no one is at fault. Age simply catches up to players, and injuries are just part of the game.

Defensively, Pittsburgh is not young by any means. Will Allen is 30, Troy Polamalu is 31, Larry Foote and Ike Taylor are 32, Ryan Clark is 33, Brett Keisel and James Harrison are 34 and Casey Hampton is 35.

For as much talent and experience as all these players encompass, it's not surprising to see why Pittsburgh has gone to three Super Bowls since 2005 and won two more Vince Lombardi Trophies. Age is just catching up to Pittsburgh, and it's a transition period each team hits after so many veterans play so many years.

As for injuries, Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley both missed the Thursday game, and more injuries occurred during the game. According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:

Running back Rashard Mendenhall was the latest Steeler to be hurt, leaving the 26-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans with an Achilles injury in the third quarter. He didn't return.

Pittsburgh also lost center Maurkice Pouncey to a leg injury and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert to an ankle injury.

That's a ridiculous amount of injuries for any one team to overcome. And it's partly why offenses have been moving the ball on LeBeau's defense, because Pittsburgh's own offense has not been consistently reliable either.

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Stay True to the Ground Game

We've seen all five of Pittsburgh's opponents try to run the rock and control the line of scrimmage.

The Denver Broncos slammed 27 times for 94 yards, and the New York Jets followed closely with 22 carries for 90 yards. One reason why the Broncos won is because Peyton Manning is straight up better than Mark Sanchez.

The Oakland Raiders didn't attempt as many carries (21), but Darren McFadden is better than any back for Denver or New York. Unsurprisingly, McFadden bolted for 113 yards on only 18 carries and Oakland pulled off the upset.

Courtesy of a bye week, the Steelers improved against the run for their in-state matchup versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly gained just 78 yards on 23 attempts;however, had Michael Vick not fumbled three times and lost two, Pittsburgh may not have won.

On Thursday, the Titans had to feed Chris Johnson between the tackles, and his blockers did create some nice holes. Johnson finished with 91 yards and averaged 4.8 per carry to help Tennessee get the victory.

Interestingly enough, the Steelers have only defended 115 rushing attempts, but allowed more yards per rush than eight teams who have faced more carries. Opponents are enjoying more success from being physical against Pittsburgh, and it has certainly been a factor regarding the Steelers' slow start.

Larry French/Getty Images


Ravens Taking Over

The Baltimore Ravens are beginning to become the standard in the AFC North.

In 2008, the Steelers swept the Ravens 3-0 en route to another AFC Championship. After splitting the series in 2009, Pittsburgh bested Baltimore again in 2010, winning 2-1 after another playoff meeting.

Last season, though, Baltimore finally swept the Steelers and Pittsburgh was upset by the Broncos in the AFC Wild Card. The Ravens had won the division and had come within a potential overtime period of Super Bowl XLVI.

Aside from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens are young across the board defensively and significantly healthier. Include a win over the New England Patriots, and Baltimore's 4-1 start is impressive.

Not to mention Lewis and Co. have given up just 17.8 points per game. The Steelers just haven't been as dominant as previous 21st-century seasons, regardless of durability concerns. And unless Pittsburgh improves against the run, 2012 won't finish as expected.

 

Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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