There are problems with this team. I believe they go beyond just playing bad, or a lack of focus. We have holes, and teams that can exploit them will have success against us. Here's my list of the top 4 problems.
1. Age. Yes Warren Sap, the Steelers defense is old. That's not why they have trouble, we've seen players play at high levels late in their careers, you don't just get bad by getting older. Lets get a little more specific.
Casey Hampton: This man ate double teams for breakfast lunch and dinner for a decade. Sadly that decade is done. Casey is still a very good NT, and he can dominate a play here or there, but most of the time you can get away with single blocking, sometimes a little help is needed, but Casey crushing the pocket or destroying the interior on run plays has gone from an every down occurrence to periodic flashes of his former greatness.
Troy: I'll cover this in the next section as well, but Troy's injuries and age have turned one of the great defensive play-makers of all time into a good starting safety.
Harrison: he isn't the guy he was two or three years ago. Rule changes have hurt his game, but so have age and injury. You just don't see Harrison going inside on the tackle and cutting through the double team with ridiculous power. He just can't do it anymore. He's still a very good OLB, but his days of being the most dominant force on the field are winding down.
That's three guys that 2008 revolved around. You can't replace players of that level.
2. Defensive Speed: Look at our front seven. Who in that group is fast? The answer is Lawrence Timmons. That's it. Harrison and Woodley are slow for OLB, good, but not fast. Foote has never been fast, and I doubt at his age that's going to improve. Ziggy Hood might be the second best athlete on our front seven right now. He runs plays down from the opposite side quite a bit. If Ziggy is having to make those tackles, it's not a good thing for the team.
We did fantastically with this group for a pretty good amount of time, why is it a problem now? Troy Polomalu. Troy had such ridiculous speed that when you got out of our front seven he was there waiting for you. He doesn't cover nearly the same amount of ground, and those small gaps are turning into yards for our opponents. He also isn't making interceptions he used to make, now he's a step or two away when the ball lands. Before he was making spectacular catches.
3. Leadership: James Farrior and Hines Ward are gone. New guys have stepped up to fill their roles, but have they filled their shoes? I don't think the struggles Brown and Wallace are having is coincidental to Hines not being there. Hines was an incredibly focused and stable receiver, our current top two seem to ride the roller-coaster quite a bit. Anyone who has played much team sports can tell you there is a difference between a coach and a respected fellow player getting after you when your head isn't in the game. On defense we've been missing tackles, it was an epidemic vs. Dallas. Ryan Clark is an emotional and effective leader, but he's no James Farrior. I also wonder if Larry Foote does as good a job with the pre-snap orders as Farrior. I don't know enough to look into this, but it is a possibility.
Leadership on the field, and on the sidelines from fellow players is a huge part of a successful team. It isn't as big a force on this years squad. You can't just replace guys like Farrior and Ward.
4. The run game: We are currently on pace for our 2nd lowest number of rushes in a 16 game season in franchise history. We need 42 attempts in the next two games to avoid being the lowest. The run game has shown glimpses of working over the season, but injuries to all our RB's and much of our O-Line isn't going to make for a good year. With the run game a complete joke the play-calling has been much more predictable and much less effective.
I'm not willing to put the blame for this on Haley. We need 71 passes in the next two games to record the most passing attempts in a season for franchise histroy, and yet we are also on pace to give up the fewest sacks since 2005, we may even allow fewer than we did in 2004. That's not shabby. Football outsiders has our sack rate at 5.9%, good for 14th in the NFL. Previous years numbers: 2011 - 7.2%, 2010 - 8.6%, 2009 - 8.5%, 2008 - 9.2%, 2007 - 10.1%, 2006 - 7.9%, 2005 - 7.8%, 2004 - 9.4% In fact you have to go back to 1997 and Kordell Stewart's first year starting to find a lower sack rate for this franchise. Every year since has been higher than our current rate.
Haley was brought in to change two things about our offense: Protect Ben Roethlisberger, and bring aneffective run game. He may have failed the second one, but the first one he has done a phenomenal job. I'm not willing to pin the run game struggles on Haley, you can't coach injuries.