Is Dick LeBeau's Time Nearing an End in Pittsburgh?

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Is Dick LeBeau's Time Nearing an End in Pittsburgh?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Every year there are questions as to whether or not Dick LeBeau will return to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Every year he returns.

The 75-year-old LeBeau may be old in terms of age, but he is young in the mind and heart. He can also still coach a pretty darn good defense, and as long as he has it his way, LeBeau should not be leaving any time soon.

Critics will argue that LeBeau’s defense has aged and isn’t the “No. 1” defense, as the rankings say. He would probably be the first to agree that the Steelers aren’t anywhere close to the top defense in the league.

For two straight seasons, the Steelers’ defense has struggled to pressure the quarterback and turnovers are few and far between.

In the past, LeBeau relied on his two best defenders—Troy Polamalu and James Harrison—as well as LaMarr Woodley to make plays. But as age and injuries have taken a toll on the top defenders, the defense has suffered.

Last season, the Steelers ranked sixth in points allowed, forced only 20 turnovers and recorded just 37 sacks. That is not good enough, especially for a team with an offense that has struggled to put points on the board recently.

The problems on defense were evident early in the year as they had trouble stopping anyone, allowing more than 20 points in three of their first five games.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Peyton Manning threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers last season.

In the season opener, the Steelers defense had no answer for Peyton Manning as the Denver Broncos put up 31 points.

While getting carved up by Manning is one thing, blowing fourth-quarter leads against two of the worst teams in the league is something else.

Against the Oakland Raiders, the Steelers gave up 13 fourth-quarter points in a 34-31 loss. Two weeks later, they allowed the Tennessee Titans to score the final 10 points of the quarter in a 26-23 loss.

But even with the early-season struggles and injuries that the defense had to face, LeBeau did his best to adjust and put the defense in a place to succeed.

Without Polamalu, the Steelers didn’t have an elite playmaker in their secondary. Ryan Mundy failed to get the job done in place of Polamalu, so the Steelers instead went with Will Allen.

Allen was not spectacular by any means, but he did enough as LeBeau had his safeties play in a traditional role, rather than have one improvising near the line of scrimmage.

Injury problems to Harrison and Woodley meant a very limited pass rush throughout the season.

While the pass rush never recovered, LeBeau did have one of the top secondaries in the league. They kept the play in front of them and rarely allowed a big play in the passing game.

Even with all of the injuries the team had to face on defense, LeBeau had his unit sharp enough to keep the Steelers in contention to win nearly every week.

That is not surprising, since under LeBeau, the Steelers perennially have finished as one of the best defenses in the league.

Steelers' defensive rankings under LeBeau over the past five seasons (via Pro-Football-Reference).

In 2012, Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 20 points or fewer in 11 of its 16 games. That should have been good enough for an offense with as much talent in the passing game as the Steelers had.

But throwing the statistics out the window, it was the on-field adjustments that LeBeau made that were most impressive.

Traditionally, the Steelers’ defense under LeBeau is one of the top blitzing units in the league. The defenders get to the quarterback and force him to make mistakes. Without that pressure, LeBeau had to come up with a new scheme.

LeBeau’s biggest change was with his coverage schemes.

He used more nickel and dime packages as more and more teams implemented pass-heavy attacks. The safeties were kept back to prevent against the big play. He made the changes necessary for the defense to succeed.

But the most impressive changes were what LeBeau did with his cornerbacks.

For years fans have screamed for LeBeau to have the cornerbacks play near the line in press coverage. Well, last season the calls were finally answered and they were answered in a big way.

Not only did he call for more press coverage, but he got one of his best young defenders on the field when Cortez Allen began to get playing time.

With Allen joining Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, the Steelers all of a sudden had a trio of very good cover corners. LeBeau was able to have his corners cover man-to-man and they were very successful at it. On the season, they finished with a league best 185.2 yards per game.

Last season, LeBeau proved that he can still coach at a high level and that he will make the necessary adjustments to put his defenders in the best position to succeed.

As he gets his playmakers healthy this year and adds new talent through the draft, LeBeau should once again have the Steelers’ defense rolling.

If there's one thing that you can count on every year, it is Dick LeBeau and his defense. As long as he wants to coach, LeBeau should be roaming the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sideline, and this defensive legend should be nowhere near the end.

 

All stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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