PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 12: Bryant McFadden #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers leads the defense in a pregame ritual prior to the NFL season opener game against the Atlanta Falcons on September 12 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The 2009 season was a disappointing one for the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially for Dick LeBeau's defensive unit. At the outset of the 2010 season, Steeler Nation wanted to know whether LeBeau's bunch would look more like the '09 version, or the '08 team that was historically good and helped propel the team into the playoffs and beyond.
For a game at least, the answer is this year's defense looks as versatile and talented as the '08 team, with perhaps even the potential to be even better. The Steelers surrendered some yards to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday - 295 to be exact on 71 plays, good for only 4.2 yards per play. Let's look at some of the other key defensive stats from the game:
|Total Yards||295||A new sub-300 yard streak is born!|
|Rushes - Yards||25 - 58||So much for a renewed M. Turner. (19 carries, 42 yards, long 7|
|Yards per Rush||2.3 yards||Still unfruitful and difficult to run against PIT|
|Pass Att/Comp (%)||27 - 44 (61.3%)||Sure, Matt Ryan completed a healthy number and %, however...|
|Gross Pass Yards - Net Pass Yards- Yards per Pass Play - Yards per Attempt
||252 - 237 - 5.2 - 5.7||44 attempts to muster those 252 yards. 5.7 yards per passing attempt won't get it done in this league. Only CLE and STL finished with a mark that low in '09. Great sign.|
|Sacks||2||Who else? Deebo and Woodley both on the board|
|Turnovers||1||Who else? Troy Polamalu with another critical and breathtakingly well executed INT.|
We have plenty of time to talk about the individual performances turned in by Steelers' defenders, but one thing at a time. Just wanted to get these numbers out there and let us begin talking about the possibility of the defense sustaining this high level of performance throughout the season. As fantastic as it was to watch the Steelers' defense play well, there are a few concerns moving forward. Nose tackle Casey Hampton left the game with a hamstring injury, never a fun injury. Hopefully he'll make a speedy recovery, but there's no reason to rush him back unnecessarily quickly. There also was a lack of pass rush from the defensive line, but that's not the first or last time that's happened during an impressive performance by the unit collectively.
Good things come to those who wait. Look like Lawrence Timmons is not the bust that a small impatient segment of the fanbase proclaimed him to be the previous two seasons. He's just a young dude still, that's all. But he sure looked great out there today. We'll see if he can stay healthy and be consistent now - the hallmark traits of the league and the franchise's best players. The prospect of him having the mental side of the game down enough to just let his natural physical ability run its course is a beautiful thing for the Steelers and their fans, and a nightmare for opponents already preoccupied by Harrison, Woodley and Polamalu. Outstanding game by him.
Tremendous performance by James Harrison. He was absolutely everywhere - plugging holes and swarming to the ball in the running game, defending against the pass at all levels. Man, it must be scary playing against him. And a solid day for LaMarr Woodley, particularly rushing the passer. He was less impressive in other phases, but he sure did show off that incredible power pushing tackles back into their quarterback.
As for the secondary, a job well done by them. Again, 5.2 yards per passing play (sacks included), 5.7 yards per attempt - an outstanding number that every defensive coordinator would kill to have each week. (In comparison, the Steelers offense averaged 7.3 yards per play passing play, and Dixon averaged 9.07 yards per attempt). More on the play of the DBs to come, but a very positive first game for both Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden at corner.
More on its way. Undefeated feels exquisite, even if it's just one week.