The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known as a defensive team. Even in the 70's, when the Steelers had five future Hall of Famers playing on offense, many people believe that the only reason the Steelers had any success was because of the defense.
Even since, the Steelers have been known as a defensive team. If you look at some of the defenses that the Steelers have had, and some of the players, they were known as the best in the game when they played.
Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Lavon Kirkland, Jason Gildon and more all were one of the best in the league when they played.
Over the first four games of the 2011 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked anything but like those teams. The great players we have—Woodley, Harrison and Timmons—were all quiet.
When people think of the Steelers of the 1970's, you hear about how they were a power running team and lived and died by the ground game.
If that was so, how could the Steelers POSSIBLY have two receivers in the Hall of Fame?
What made the Steelers of the 70's so great was their ability to beat the opposition be either throwing or passing. The Steelers of today are very similar to those of the 70's, with the ability to rush or pass.
Though they have they ability, does not mean they always do it.
Here is my State of the Steelers for the 2011 NFL Season.
The Steelers secondary through the first quarter of the NFL season was NOTHING like what Steelers fans have become used to.
In an NFL where passing is at an all-time high, and there are five players on pace to break Dan Marinos all time passing yards record, and one of them is a rookie, passing games are destroying defenses.
And the Steelers, who have had a secondary that fans have been screaming for improvement, like spending a first round pick to address the position, seem to be forgotten about when talking about the Steelers defense.
Yes, I know that the secondary has no interceptions through six games. Stop looking at the negative for a second, and look at the positive.
Currently, the Steelers are ranked second in the NFL, allowing only 158 yards per game, which makes them first in passing yards against.
They also have held the other QB's to a total QB rating of 79.9.
The longest pass against the Steelers in 2011 is 30 yards.
They have allowed six TD's through the air.
Have only allowed nine plays of over 20 yards.
For all the angst that Steelers Nation has had about the Steelers secondary, they are playing at one of the highest levels on the team.
What could POSSIBLY be the reason?
For starters, when the Steelers lost Ray Horton as their secondary coach, they brought in former Pro Bowl Steeler, Carnell Lake.
Though many people said that bringing in Lake was not going to make that much of a difference, he seems to have had a pretty great start.
Keenan Lewis and William Gay, both people that Steelers Nations wanted to see gone, have both improved their games. Does Lake get NO credit for this?
Ike is Ike, and Troy is Troy, and with younger players starting emerge as actual players, the Steelers secondary is better than anyone thought possible.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally completed the transition from a run first team to a pass first team. With a QB like Big Ben Roethlisberger, it would be smart to use his talents to the best of his ability.
Even with the eventual departure of Hines Ward, the Steelers passing game is one of the most dangerous in the NFL. Roethlisberger has the type of weapons any team would kill for.
Mike Wallace is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have not taken the leap between years one and two that Mike Wallace did, but it would not be fair to expect them to.
Both are still great players, and with another year with Roethlisberger, they can be amazing.
Heath Miller has not been as great as a weapon in the passing game, but that is because he is having to stay in as a blocker.
With the weakness of the Steelers offensive line, Miller is a casualty that has to be afforded.
The Steelers are set at the center position with Maurkice Pouncey. Having made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, he has not had any type of sophomore slump, and is playing as good if not better than his rookie season.
Marcus Gilbert is having a hard time staying out of the training room, but when he has played, he has done well for a rookie. PLEASE don't compare him to Pouncey, as that simply would not be fair.
That re-addition of Max Starks to the roster has been a boost that no one thought would be possible. Starks is playing the LT position head and shoulders better than anyone that the Steelers have tried there this year.
Both guard positions still need to be addressed.
Unacceptable is the only words that can describe the Steelers rush defense in 2011.
The same Steelers defense that was ranked first in the NFL in 2011, by allowing less than 63 total yards per game, is allowing 112.8, almost TWICE what they allowed last season.
What is the reason?
Casey Hampton, though still able to play the position, is getting chopped down like an oak tree. Opposing offenses have learned that if the center hits him high, and the guard hits him low, then Hampton is easy to beat.
Aaron Smith no longer has it. It is sad, but it is true. For years, Smith was one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. After suffering two season ending injuries in the last two years, Smith simply does not have the ability left to be successful in the NFL.
Over the first four games of the season, this became SO PAINFULLY OBVIOUS that I was amazed that Mike Tomlin allowed it to go on for so long.
James Harrison was still playing above average when he was injured against the Texans; the Steelers played better with Lawrence Timmons taking his place on the outside.
James Farrior has somehow gotten worse in passing situations. It has caused Mike Tomlin to substitute Larry Foote through the season.
No training camp?
Most people thought that the Steelers would not be affected by the lockout. Seems they were wrong.
Ryan Clark had even said that the Steelers didn't need any offseason work. They were a veteran team, and they were not learning anything different.
Not only that, the Steelers seemed to almost have an attitude that they were entitled to be the best in the NFL again. They talked trash about the Ravens and had to eat crow once the season started and they were handled by the Ravens.
Could it be that the Steelers needed the first four weeks of the season to really get ready to play?
Possible, but the way they played against the Titans (who have a pretty good team), the Steelers looked like the Steelers of old, not the ones that were old.
Rashard Mendenhall has shown flashes of greatness throughout his career. He has also shown flashes of other things that are not quite considered greatness.
While being injured and not able to play against the Tennessee Titans, back ups Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer showed that the Steelers ground game was in capable hands without Mendenhall, rushing for 156 yards on 26 carries.
Mendenhall must have felt the pressure, returning against the Jaguars rushing for 146 yards on 23 carries, including the longest run of his career at 68 yards.
All of these players are young and capable of being constant contributors. As long as the Steelers can find a way to get them all included in the game and keep allowing the passing game to air it out, the Steelers offense could be the most lethal heading into the future.
Look, I love Dick LeBeau. The man is a legend, and if it is possible, will go into the Hall of Fame not only as a player, but as a coach as well.
IF the Steelers continue to play like they did against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, then LeBeau will be free to return for yet another year with the Steelers.
IF they play like they did against the Ravens, then it will be time for LeBeau to hang up his whistle.
The Steelers already have the replacement for LeBeau on the roster, with Keith Butler waiting in the wings.
You have to wonder what is going to happen to the Steelers defense once LeBeau does retire. Will Mike Tomlin go back to the 4-3, Tampa 2 defense that he used while in Tampa Bay and Minnesota? Will Butler continue to use the 3-4 that he has spent his career learning from LeBeau? IF Butler stays with the 3-4, will he be successful enough to keep Tomlin from switching?
With the improvements in the secondary, Carnell Lake has shown that he has been an amazing pick up, and I believe he will have a long career as a Steelers coach.
With the younger players getting playing time in the Steelers system, it looks as if all the talk about the Steelers being (as Warren Sapp said) old, slow and over may have all been premature.
The younger players that are replacing those injured players are going to be more than capable to take their place once they have to do so on a full time basis.
Regardless of what happens with the older players (next slide), it appears that the Steelers have not really taken a step back, but only shifted feet, as their defense is ranked first in the NFL against the pass, and considering that the NFL is turning into a pass first league, this is a good sign.
With the Steelers currently pushing the brink of the salary cap, there are a few things that will probably happen after the 2011 season that will put the Steelers in a good position.
Casey Hampton: $7.076 million.
Aaron Smith: $6.1 million.
James Farrior: $3.824 million.
Bryant McFadden: $2.67 million.
Larry Foote: $3 million.
Though all of these players may not be gone in 2012, none of them will be back at the money they are currently being paid.
If the Steelers decide to part ways with them, then they will save just under $23 million dollars. And with none of these players being regular contributors, with the exception of James Farrior, it is a good bet that the Steelers will have plenty of room under the cap next season.
When the Steelers opened up their checkbook prior to the 2011 season, they took care of many of the future free agents they would have had to deal with.
LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu have all been re-signed and are set for at least then next four seasons.
The only player with an expiring contract that the Steelers need to get under contract for the future is Mike Wallace.
Wallace has shown that he is more than simply a straight line, beat you to the end zone player. He has come a long way and improved on his route running and is currently fourth in the NFL in yards.
In 2012, Mike Wallace will have three years of accrued service in the NFL, meaning he will, at worst, be a restricted free agent. If the Steelers decide not to give Wallace the contract I am sure he thinks he deserves, at worst, he will be tendered a first round pick, and no one likes to sign players if it is going to cost them a first round pick. Even if they do, the Steelers can match the offer and keep him.
With all the negativity surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers, it appears that things are looking bright into the future.
There is a solid core of a team in place, with a great coaching staff and the best owners in all of professional sports.
So when you hear people talk about the demise of the Steelers and how bad they are or are going to be, simply laugh at the fact they don't know the Steelers.
If they did, they would probably hop on the bandwagon.