Trailing to the Houston Texans 10-0 at halftime on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers played one of their most uninspired halves of football in recent memory. The offense sputtered for the meager eight minutes and change that they possessed the ball on offense, accumulating an underwhelming 108 yards on 21 offensive plays. But that wasn't even the worst of it.
The usually stout Pittsburgh Steelers run defense looked ordinary, getting dominated at the line of scrimmage by the Houston offensive line all afternoon. Texans' star running-back Arian Foster, whose been battling a nagging hamstring injury in 2011, looked to be at 100 percent, eclipsing the century mark early on in the second half and capped his day off with a fourth quarter 42-yard cutback run, ultimately reaching pay dirt.
If you're a Steelers fan, you have to be concerned. Concerned not only for the well-being of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will be lucky to play into December if his offensive line can't protect him, but with the ease with which teams have moved the ball on the ground against them.
The knock on the defense is that they're old. You can make an argument against it, that experience triumphs over youth, but the fact is that seven of the 11 starters on defense are 30 years of age or older. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau may be the greatest defensive scheming coach ever, but if the defense has "lost a step," it's not going to matter.
I don't mean to pick on the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, safety Troy Polamalu, but it looks like he is just a minor click off. Yes, he's there to make the diving tackle, but the only thing separating a five yard gain from a fifty yard gain in the NFL is a split second in timing.
The linebacking core, which accounts for the majority of the pressure in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, has been a relative non-factor in the pass rush. Outside linebacker James Harrison has been quiet thus far, getting to the quarterback only two times in the first four games and after signing a major contract extension in the off-season, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley has only registered 1.5 sacks.
Is the Pittsburgh Steelers defense on the decline?
I'm not implying that all is lost and that this team is on their way out of contention to vie for another Super Bowl, but there are indications to suggest that they could take somewhat of a beating this season if they don't sure up some things on the line scrimmage - offensively and defensively.
The Steelers will have a chance to put some of those criticisms to rest this Sunday when they host the 3-1 Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. The Titans will look to extend their recent three game win-streak against the Steelers and get their third win against an AFC North opponent in 2011.
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