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Making a case for the Steelers defense…

Following the horrible Broncos Wildcard loss, the defense and Lebeau are under the microscope and for good reason – Lebeau failed to make adjustments to what the Broncos were doing offensively and his overall gameplan was arguably predictable and ineffective. But I’m going to defend the defense a little bit (definitely NOT absolve them however). The relationship between a defense and offense of any team is symbiotic in nature. In other words – when an offense is putting pressure on the other team by scoring points it takes pressure off of that team’s defense. This is especially true in today’s NFL where rules constantly favor offenses (Just look at how successful teams like the Packers, Saints and Patriots have been with mediocre to bad defenses this year). When that isn’t happening (which has been the case for sometime with the Steelers) the pressure is constantly on the defense to keep the score low. Again, with new rules favoring the offense this becomes a tougher objective to achieve with each passing season.

The Steelers defense, with all it’s warts – late game breakdowns, inability to stop seemingly mediocre QB’s at times, etc. have actually done a remarkable job of keeping the score low in games for years now. When, exactly, is the offense going to start pulling it’s weight on this team?

Let’s go back to the Broncos game – The Steelers defense in the first quarter is dominating a mediocre Broncos offense, the Steelers offense is driving – but of course also stalling – with two drives resulting in FG’s instead of TD’s. Score at the end of the 1st quarter – 6-0. Once again the Steelers look like a superior team, but of course, the scoreboard says differently.

If I’m the Broncos, I’m pretty happy with that score after being dominated for the most part. What would their mindset be, though, had the Steelers offense actually scored TD’s instead of FG’s? Or even just one TD? The game then takes on a completely different vibe and tone going into the 2nd quarter. A 6-0 lead is virtually nothing, it’s a one score game and nothing more.

Again, I’m not absolving the defense’s performance but when the offense has a chance (and then another chance) to pull away early and pisses it away (again and again) it puts repeated and unfair pressure on the defense and gives momentum back to the other team. To make things worse the Steelers offense then turns the ball over deep in Steeler territory in the 2nd quarter. 6 whole points the entire half and a horrible turnover. That is not what I would call shouldering their respective workload.

People wonder why the Steelers defense doesn’t have more takeaways. Well, one reason could be that opposing teams are never under the threat of being blown out when playing the Steelers and so the opposing offenses aren’t under pressure to get away from their normal gameplan, which in turn leads to less risk-taking and mistakes (ie, turnovers). There is that whole “symbiotic relationship” again.

Make no mistake, the current Steelers defense isn’t the Steel Curtain or even the best Steelers defense in recent memory but for them to play with an offense that constantly scores 3-10 points in almost every 1st half and an offense that scores less than 20 points in half their games, it’s more than obvious that they are (still) the main reason the Steelers are successful. I think fans have gotten used to the way the Steelers win games (which are normally tight and low-scoring due to a somewhat ineffective offense) and the expectations of the defense and offense are thrown out of whack so to speak. It’s as if the defense is only allowed one screw up for every 4 or 5 screwups the offense makes which, again, is unfair to the defense, especially a defense that isn’t really as good as it’s numbers would suggest. A defense that is playing in a new era of offensive heavy football.

Let’s be frank, it’s been time for the Steelers offense to step up for years now. And I think it’s plainly obvious that the Steelers as an organization need to change their mindset given how the NFL is quickly turning into an offensive league to stay relevant. FG’s instead of TD’s should no longer be acceptable, snapping the ball with 1 second on the gameclock should no longer be acceptable and the list goes on and on. One of the main objectives for the offense should NOT be to hold the ball for a long time (the Steelers offense led the NFL in time of possession in 2011), especially if that sort of mindset is hindering the offense in any way from actually scoring TD’s instead of FG’s. Times are changing, the Steelers offense needs to change as well.

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