In 2008, the Steelers had an unbelievable season: they held 14 consecutive opponents under 300 yards of total offense, were No. 1 against the pass, No. 2 against the run, No. 1 in total yards per game and by season's end had recorded 51 sacks.
Flash-forward to 2009 season. The Steelers walked through the looking glass. They were systematically confronted with fourth quarter implosions, while the run defense ended third in the league and the pass defense failed the black and gold.
Yes, the injuries to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith were devastating. In a defense that depends upon stopping the run and forcing the opponent to pass whereupon the defense then unleashes a furry of blitzing and zone blitzing schemes, losing a Polamalu who reads and interprets the offense based upon the defensive schemes was a loss the Steelers never quite recovered from.
Now, it is 2010. Troy Polamalu is healthy, the defense ranks fourth. The Steelers are first against the rush and 24th against the pass. But the Steelers are 6-2, which is at least three games in the win column more than most thought was possible at this junction with the Roethlisberger suspension.
There is a murmur of discontent with the once vaulted pass defense. In the Week 8 loss to the Saints, New Orleans amassed 318 total net yards with 305 of the yards coming off the hands of Drew Brees. In the fourth quarter, both Colston and Moore caught TD passes, making the pass defense look gassed.
In Week 9 versus the Bengals, Carson Palmer had 248 yards, including a touchdown pass to T.O. and a methodical fourth quarter drive for the lead aptly broken up when rookie Jordan Shipley was sandwiched between Ike Taylor and James Harrison on a 4th-and-five on the 12-yard line with 34 seconds left to play. So why didn’t it feel like a win?
The expectation of the Steeler nation is the 2008 season. The Steelers have been decimated by injuries this year on both sides of the ball. And, the Steelers are 6-2, ranked fourth in defense. While the Bengals game bent the pass defense, it didn’t break it.
This week, the Steelers play the Patriots at home. Tom Brady and the Pats got manhandled last week by the Cleveland Browns. Is there any reason to believe the Steelers defense is not capable of an equal or greater submission hold on the Patriots?
We are at the halfway mark in the season (all you naysayers, behold the determination of the Steelers through adversity), and we look pretty darn good. Maybe the problem isn’t with the defense but unrealistic expectations.
At the end of the Bengals game, Polamalu looked as if it was a defeat. Tomlin explained that Polamalu liked “to win on style points; sometimes that’s not possible.” I say hear hear. A win is a win is a win. And the pass defense while showing remarkable yoga like flexibility at times hasn’t broken the Steelers yet.