Now, at the moment most of us are on Panic Island and considering suicide. It's understandable. I'm upset, my hate is building (you'll see it later this week) and I too am bothered and frustrated as you all are.
I think it's really important to examine WHY our Run D is faltering and in particular examine the players involved. So this is an in-depth view of our run D and it's various components.
And more importantly, the future I see for our D. Because I'm sick of hearing all the doom and gloom here, you might find solace in some good news.
The first thing everybody will cry about is how the run defense is faltering. This is definitely a concern. But there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. It takes 11 people to make a solid run D, but lets start with the front 3.
Hampton: Big snack is back hard. He's been playing tough football despite being chopped all the time. He is still occupying two people in most cases, and has even blown into backfields a couple times which I haven't seen in years.
Ziggy: The kid is still young and is still learning. He got a lot of time last year, but was on the other side. So he's struggled I think also with closing his lanes and the type of opponent he's up against is different now. But he still shows he's capable to start in this league.
Keisel however still is better at this moment. But if he can't get healthy, it won't matter. Hopefully he's good soon.
Smith: Smith can still play folks. He held his lanes very well and made some good tackles. I trust his ability to handle the run game quite well. But he can't play every down, lest we lose him for the season again. Which leads us to....
Heyward is of course a rookie, and was playing a lot today. He struggled with his lanes but beat his blocker a few times on passing downs.The problem is simply lack of experience. He's in probably one of the most complicated systems in the league, and just got here. He will learn.
I think our best solution on the line is to let Hood and Heyward rotate in for Keisel and Smith on passing-possible downs and let Keisel and Smith manage the more likely running plays. Keep them warm and fresh at the same time.
What this means: Our line is solid. But when the young guys are in, we're seeing bigger running lanes than normal, as they haven't learned how to close lanes and control the flow yet. It's a complicated system but effectively our DL has to almost create a specific hole, which will be filled by a LB. The young guys will learn, and our D will stiffen when Keisel returns also.
So I feel good about the line, but now lets look at the next 4 on the list.
Harrison: The man looks healthy and has been dominating as much as he can. He still gets held a lot. But he looks to be in good shape, hopefully this weird headbutt accident today was minor. Harrison is basically a 12th man because he can take double teams like a lineman and yet destroy any runner in the area.
Timmons: This man woke up a lot today I think and was playing really well. He was in the game early and often. And in general he's the LB version of Troy. He lines up everywhere and creates problems. Obvious star in the making.
Farrior/Foote: These guys are the problem here. They can't cover, and asking them to do so on passing downs is asinine. Neither one has been doing particularly well in run stoppage lately either. Foote has been better actually in my opinion. Farrior just can't seem to shed a block or push anybody back now. And he has lost a lot of his speed.
Woodley: I was not a big fan of this resigning. I feel Woodley is an above average pass rusher with a high motor and is a big man. However I just don't see any improvement from him in these years. His run stopping frankly has been pathetic. He frequently overpersues and doesn't show disciplined, experienced judgment which he should have after 4 seasons. To me, Woodley is basically a Clark Haggans, who looked better with Porter on the other side, much like 92 and 56.
What does it mean? Well Timmons and Harrison can typically cover up passes pretty well. Woodley and Farrior are just too slow and can't do it at all. And in the run game, Harrison demands double teams now, and breaks through them, where we see Farrior fading and Woodley getting stuffed by a single man.
This would explain why most of our opponent's big runs have come on the right side of their offense. It's not surprising. Again, the LBs are supposed to get the tackles in our system, our DL simply helps make it possible. But with Lamarr and Farrior being slower on the right side, faster backs and TE/FBs can set up blocks and make generous holes.
In the majority of games, what I've seen is most of the up the gut and left tackle runs go nowhere. However, the right side has been consistently horrible.
In short, we have to do something to improve the right two LB positions. I would consider giving Sylvester some more playing time in place of Farrior.
This is where we have good news folksks.
Our secondary without B-Mac has been actually pretty darn good. The Texans have an explosive offense that just put up 30+ last week, we held them to 17. Schaub threw for very little yardage, under 10 yards per completion which is pretty good by the D. The only real breakdowns were when Schaub escaped, imitated Ben, and rifled a ball in. And a couple deep plays to the TE where Farrior was in coverage.
Tackling has been excellent.
My most peculiar observation:
Many runs on the left side seem to often involve Polamalu. Last week he almost broke up a play, and it was a TD. This week it was nearly the same. Troy almost tackled Foster but Foster squeaked out and broke a big one.Troy got half tackled by Woodley on the Foster TD. He often runs parallel to the line to catch the runner from behind before breaking the LOS. Effectively he's a 5th LB
The only complaint I would say is Troy is trying too hard. He's made some over shoots and it's almost like he's playing faster than his mind can. And I think the left side can do it without him, having Timmons and Harrison and Hood/Keisel over there. I would rather see Troy roaming the right and backing up Woodley/Farrior and covering TEs.
So folks, we have no reason to panic about our defense. Our offense is a problem, but that's another post. Our D has done their job, holding the Colts and Texans' offenses to just 30 points over two games, ON THE ROAD. They blanked Seattle. 30 points in 3 games is what our D has allowed. We've lost ONE of those games.
Basically this team will be a late bloomer I believe. The new young DL's will learn and improve, and the O-line (barring injury) will get more comfortable with eachother as time goes on. They too are young in areas.
So really I don't think the problem is that we're old. It's that passing the torch sometimes leads to a few cinders falling out and burning your hand in the process. Soon as the new guys have that torch in their grasp, we'll be back to being the Best D in football bar none.
In the meantime, Ben has to carry this team like he did in 08. This was a game we won in 2008, with a last chance comeback from the 50 yard line being a cakewalk for Ben. The defense isn't able to bail him out like they often did in 2005.
How long it will take for the new players to get up to the standard is anybody's guess, but I have a feeling we'll be in top shape come Baltimore. And from there we won't look back and we'll make the playoffs and have a good run.
Have faith Steeler nation.