Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Concern: Pass Defense

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Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Concern: Pass Defense
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After winning a hard fought game against the hated Baltimore Ravens, mostly all is good in Steeler Nation. It was a very important win for the team as it now controls its own destiny to get a bye in the playoffs. 

There is still a big concern for this team: The Steelers pass defense is quickly becoming something that might hold this team back from winning the Super Bowl.

The NFL is a passing league. The Steelers haven't faced many good quarterbacks this year, yet they still have looked mediocre defending the pass.

Every week, we hear that the opposing team won't be able to run the ball and that the Steelers don't get the ball run on them. While that is true, I'm not sure opposing teams should even be concerned about running the ball against the Steelers.

In the game against the Ravens, Joe Flacco completed two passes of at least 60 yards. Bryant McFadden and Ryan Clark were the two defenders on those two plays. What bothers me is this defense is at least supposed to prevent those big pass plays.

The Steelers often play a deep zone coverage with some sort of blitz. The problem is when teams pick up on the blitz.

On the first deep ball, the Ravens kept seven guys in to block, having only three receivers running routes. Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' best defensive back, blitzed on the play but he and the rest of the pass-rushers were picked up by the Ravens, resulting in a 61-yard completion to Anquan Boldin.

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This tells me that teams are doing a good job of preparing for the the Steelers' defense, and that most are caught up on Dick LeBeau's scheme.

Luckily for the Steelers, Flacco isn't a truly elite quarterback. He's a good QB, but he is still young and he's not very cerebral. However, he and the Ravens did win the first meeting between the two teams, and they won by throwing the ball.

If Flacco and the Ravens can do that, what's going to happen when the Steelers play one of the best pass offenses in the NFL in the playoffs?

Perhaps no team was more prepared than the New England Patriots. When the Pats came to town they had no interest in running the ball. They spread the Steelers out with four and five wide-receiver sets, and went on to throw the ball 43 times for 343 yards.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick own the Steelers and know how to beat them. Of course, Brady and the Pats seem to do that to every team, but this defense is supposed to be elite. It's supposed to be the best.

The same thing happened two weeks before that game when the Steelers played the New Orleans Saints. The Saints had no intention of running the ball against the Steelers. They lined Drew Brees up in the shotgun with three, four, and sometimes five-receiver sets, and threw the ball over 40 times.

Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, but I still think it's the only way to beat the Steelers.

Brees went on to complete 34 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns on the night. In the second half, Brees completed 20 of 22 passes and led the Saints to 17 of their 20 points, which leads me to believe that the Steelers coaching staff must be one of the worst at making halftime adjustments, both offensively and defensively.

The Steelers did a decent job against Brees, but the Saints obviously made some minor adjustments at halftime that allowed him to go 20 of 22 throwing the ball.

Looking back all the way to Super Bowl XLIII against Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals, the Steelers did a good job in the first half, holding the Cardinals to seven points. But in the second half, Warner threw for over 200 yards, and the Cardinals regained the lead.

Last year, Bruce Gradkowski led not one, but two game-winning drives against the Steelers, who made him and Louis Murphy look like All-Pros.

Last year, everyone gave the defense a pass because Polamalu missed most of the year and the Steelers had replaced cornerback McFadden with William Gay. Now, both Polamalu and McFadden are back and starting, but we're still getting the same results.

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Polamalu played some the worst football of his career against the Saints and the Patriots, often getting beat deep in coverage and missing more than one tackle.

In all three of the Steelers' losses this year, you can blame their week pass defense. 

And, part of the blame goes to LeBeau and Mike Tomlin.

They continue to have their corners play eight and sometimes 10 yards off the ball, allowing teams to complete short passes the entire game. The Steelers play a safe coverage trying to prevent the big play. That's fine, but at the same time, if the opposing team continues to complete four to 6-yard passes, it still adds up the same.

They need to be more aggressive and press the corners with a blitz, the same thing that other defenses try to do them.

Playing safe isn't always the best option.

This prevent-style defense could end up costing the Steelers a big playoff game, however, especially considering that their opponent will most likely have one of the better quarterbacks in the league.

I just hope the Steelers aren't too arrogant to realize that they have a big problem to fix.

Pittsburgh is going to make the playoffs this year, but what happens if it has to face Brady and the Pats?

Do you feel confident it can stop them?

 

This article also appears on the Pittsburgh blog www.412sportstalk.net  You can follow me on Twitter at  www.twitter.com/madchad1187

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