Pittsburgh Steelers: Is the Passing Defense Still a Concern?
At the conclusion of the 2010 Super Bowl, every member of Steelers Nation insisted that the Steelers were doomed unless they somehow addressed their secondary.
During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Steelers used two of their selections on corners, third round pick Curtis Brown out of Texas and fourth round pick Cortez Allen out of the Citadel.
Neither of these players were believed to be immediate solutions to the Steelers secondary needs, and neither of them have been.
The one big move that Pittsburgh did make was re-signing Ike Taylor to a four year contract extension. Taylor is not only the best cover corner for the Steelers, he is a great example of how a late round pick can come to a team, bide his time and become a leader on the defense.
Which is perfect for the young group of corners the Steelers have on their roster.
Though Steelers Nation was collectively biting their nails as to how the Steelers secondary was going to be in 2011, I think that surprised could be viewed as an understatement for how the Steelers secondary has performed so far.
After six games, the Steelers pass defense is ranked first in the NFL, allowing only 158 yards per game. Yes, the San Diego Chargers have given up fewer yards total (898 to 946), but they have already had their bye week, and per game average, the Steelers are allowing 22 yards less.
Ike Taylor has done an above average job covering the opposite team's best receiver. Though he still can't catch a ball to save his life, he keeps the opposition from having their best weapon.
After Ike Taylor, who is the Steelers best cover corner?
Opposite of Taylor, the Steelers have used a combination of Bryant McFadden, Will Gay and Keenan Lewis. Though McFadden has spent a good deal of time being injured, Gay and Lewis have done a better job than anyone thought they would be able to.
And in a year where QB's are on pace to shatter NFL records, that says a lot about the Steelers secondary.
So, what is the big difference?
The only change on the Steelers coaching staff this past offseason was the loss of Ray Horton, who was the Steelers defensive backs coach. Horton left to become the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
Horton was replaced by former Steeler Carnell Lake. Lake played both the corner and safety positions for the Steelers and went to the Pro Bowl at both positions, for five total appearances (1994-1997, 1999).
Could it be possible that a simple change of coaches could make this much of a difference?
The Cardinals defense is ranked 13th in the NFL, and against the pass, they are ranked 15th, giving up 258 yards per game. That is 100 per game more than the Steelers.
The Steelers in 2010, under Horton, gave up 214 yards per game, which was 12th in the NFL.
Though the Steelers have not played any of the top tier QB's in the NFL, they have a big test coming up in two weeks, against the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady normally has his way with the Steelers secondary.
In 2010, Brady threw for 350 yards on 30-of-43 passing, and a QB rating of 117.4.
In 2008 when Brady was injured, Matt Cassel threw for 145 yards, on 19-of-39 passes, and a QB rating of 39.4.
In 2007, Brady threw for 399 yards on 32-of-46 passing, and a QB rating of 125.2.
In 2005, Brady threw for 346 yards on 31-of-41 passing, and a QB rating of 92.7.
There is no question that Tom Brady has had some of his most successful days playing against the Steelers, but without Brady, the Patriots are not even close to the talent of the Steelers.
If the Steelers are in fact a better secondary now that Lake has taken over for Horton, then this game against the Patriots is going to be a great game to watch.
If not, then we will all know in two weeks.
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