Seems that despite all the bickering and insults going on over here the last few days, quite a few posters seem to agree that there are major issues with this defense. What is disagreed upon is what should be done to go about fixing it. Some think that with James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back, things will go back to the way they were or very close to it. Others believe that father time is catching up with Troy while James is continuing to struggle with his knee injury and it has some fans wondering if he will ever be at 100 percent this year when he does come back. Now the reason these two guys are being brought up is because at the high points of their careers, these guys were defensive players of the year. Troy is obviously considered the heart of the Steelers defense with James not very far behind. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, James can't stay away from surgery these days. He has had three of them in less than two years. First in January of 2011 to fix a bad back, then October of 2011 to take care of his broken eye socket and then just last month, surgery on his balky left knee. Now he suffered what his agent referred to as a "a setback" and his status for the game against the Eagles appears to be in doubt. Unfortunately this is what you get with 34-year-olds who have three surgeries in under two years. I don't care if he is a "young 34" or an "old 34", the older a player gets, the tougher it gets and longer it takes for these guys to get over their injuries. This is especially true for someone like James Harrison who has suffered multiple injuries of late.
Now onto the heart of the defense, Troy Polamalu. He's always been more prone to injury than his teammate James Harrison, partially due to his reckless style of play, but when on the field, there hasn't been a bigger defensive game changer over the years than number 43. However, we began to see signs of father time catching up with him last season some. Keep in mind that his first interception of last year did not come until the fourteenth game of the season against the Cleveland Browns and then he got his second (and last) interception of the year in the last game of the regular season against those same Browns. In 2010, Troy had two interceptions in the first two games. Not only were the lack of interceptions an issue with him last year, but so was the lack of true "splash plays." I can remember five true "splash plays" Troy made alone off the top of my head from 2010. First came in Week 1 against Atlanta. The Falcons had the ball on their own 21 with 1:45 to play in the 4th quarter and Troy picked off a Matt Ryan pass intended for Roddy White to set the offense up with great field position on the Atlanta 30. Unfortunately Jeff Reed couldn't knock home the game winner and the team needed a Rashard Mendenhall 50 yard run to win it in overtime, but that play right there put the team in fantastic position to end the game in regulation. Then the following week in Tennessee, Troy not only had an interception, but with the Titans on the move late in the game, he hurdled over the center of the Titans offensive line to pick up a sack of Kerry Collins which caused the Steeler fans in attendance at LP Field to go nuts. Now fast forward to Week 14 of the 2010 season when the team was facing a trap game against a Buffalo Bills team which had been playing better in recent weeks in Buffalo just a week before a big game on the road with arch rival Baltimore. The Bills had a nice drive going and had taken a little over three minutes off the clock. They were on the Steelers 12 yard line facing a 2nd and 7 to go down by only three points. Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick attempts to throw a pass in the direction of his number one target in Steve Johnson (who had a HUGE drop later, but that's another subject), but someone got in the way and came up with a huge interception to keep the Steelers in the lead and end the Bills drive. Who came up with that pick? If you said Troy Polamalu, you would be 100 percent correct. Now the Bills did tie the game and force it into OT the next time they got the ball back, but if not for that Polamalu interception, it's quite possible the Steelers lose that game in regulation. They won in overtime 19-16 on a Shaun Suisham field goal. Then the next week in Baltimore for the division lead, the offense couldn't muster up much of anything all game long. Late in the 4th quarter, the Ravens had the ball facing a 2nd and 5 on their own 43 yard line. Given the way the Steeler offense was being shut down, you had to think a big play from the defense was necessary if the team had any plan to winning that game. Well, they got just that with a sack of Joe Flacco, who proceeded to fumble the ball. It was picked up by LaMarr Woodley who returned it all the way to the Baltimore 9 yard line to set up a 1st and goal. A Ben Roethlisberger screen pass to Isaac Redman on 3rd and goal resulted in a touchdown to give the Steelers a 13-10 lead, one they wouldn't relinquish in a big time road victory. Now again I ask, who came up with the sack and forced Flacco to fumble the ball? If you again said Troy Polamalu, you are correct again. Then after an emotional win over Baltimore, the team flew back home to take on a Cincinnati team which had been a major disappointment that season. In spite of this, the Steelers seemed to be suffering a hangover from the win in Baltimore. They came out very flat and struggled for about the first quarter and a half. However, the tide shifted once again thanks to another big defensive play. Someone picked off Bengals QB Carson Palmer and took it 45 yards to the house. He made sure he got into the end zone with a dive which resulted in his being injured. Now who was it that came up with this game changing play to shift the momentum onto the Steelers side and allowed them to eventually cruise to an easy 23-7 victory? Who? If you answered Troy Polamalu, you are correct yet again! Now last year, he was not making these type of game changing plays. Not only was that disturbing, but he also looked a step slow and was whiffing on a number of tackles he would have easily made 99 times out of 100 in past seasons.
Now Harrison hasn't played in any of the Steelers three games this season while Troy only played in the Week 1 loss to the Broncos. With that in mind, you're wondering how can the man writing this fanpost be saying that Dick LeBeau is the problem? Well, let me explain. Another argument I get for LeBeau is the team had the #1 ranked defense in the NFL in 2011. That is also true. But that again is extremely flawed. Why is that stat flawed? Because in half of the 16 games the Steelers played last year, the defense went up against VERY bad quarterback play. The first awful QB of the year was Tarvaris Jackson of the Seattle Seahawks. What kind of sustained success has he had as a starter? Exactly. There's a reason why Seattle dealt him to Buffalo for next to nothing and why he is rotting on the bench in Buffalo. He stinks! The second awful QB of the year came next week in the form of Indianapolis Colts QB Curtis Painter. I know, I know... the only reason he was starting was due to the neck injuries sustained by now Denver Bronco Peyton Manning, but it is what it is. Where is Curtis Painter now, you ask? Sitting on his couch as a free agent. Why? Because he stinks! Third awful QB of the year came in the form of Jacksonville rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. He's still starting for the Jags and does look considerably better this year, but that's not saying a ton since he was so bad last year that there was speculation the team might give up on him entirely. Awful QB number four of 2011 was Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals. He finally seems to have things pointing in the right direction, but here is a guy who was getting outplayed by rookie John Skelton last year and even originally lost out for the starting QB spot in Arizona this year until Skelton got injured. Awful QB number five of the year came during the road trip to Kansas City in the form of Pittsburgh kid Tyler Palko. He threw three awful picks against the Steelers in an ugly 13-9 game and in the four games he started filling in for the injured Matt Cassel, threw for 749 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions. Even Tarvaris Jackson looks amazing in comparison while Curtis Painter is at least competent in comparison. He's sitting on his couch as a free agent and won't be getting a call anytime soon. Awful QB of the year number six was Colt McCoy in the first game against the Cleveland Browns. Let's be honest with ourselves here. At best, Colt is a backup NFL QB. There's a reason why a soon-to-be 29 year old QB was taken in the first round by Cleveland to take his place as their starter in 2012. Awful QB of the year number seven came in the form of the Rams Kellen Clemens. Who? Exactly. A career bench warmer. He is currently backing up Sam Bradford in St. Louis. Yikes! Better hope Bradford stays healthy over there. The eighth and last awful QB of 2011 the Steelers got to face was the backup to Colt McCoy in the second game against Cleveland; Seneca Wallace. Another career bench warmer who doesn't even have a job right now. Playing these eight guys, even if your defense is mediocre, you should end up with a fairly high ranking at the end of the season. That's how bad those eight guys are, or in a couple cases, were last year.
If you still don't believe me in showing that what I just said proves how flawed the Steelers having the #1 ranked defense in the league last year does, maybe this will. The team only forced 15 turnovers all season long. That ranked dead last in the NFL. Also keep in mind that in 2011, Troy Polamalu played in all sixteen regular season games as well as the playoff loss in Denver. Through three games this season, the team has forced three turnovers. That puts them on pace to force 16 turnovers, which would only be a one turnover improvement from a year ago. Also keep in mind that James Harrison played in 11 games last year and while he did record nine sacks, six of those came in two games. So for the other nine games, he was essentially a non-factor. So while some may want to believe having James and Troy back in the lineup will cure most and perhaps all the woes this team has had on the defensive side of the ball through the first three games of this season, I'm not seeing the evidence to believe it will. Now let's get to Dick LeBeau. No doubt he has made great contributions to this organization over the years and for that, he is to be commended. However, there comes a time when the game simply passes even the great ones by. I believe 100 percent that time has come for LeBeau. Why, you ask? Well, just look at performances put up by a well below average QB in Tim Tebow and now mediocre at best QB in Carson Palmer. In the playoff game in Denver, Tebow threw for 316 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and ran for another touchdown. He and the Broncos scored 29 points that game in an overtime win. Then just this past Sunday against Oakland, Palmer dinked and dunked his way down the field with ease. After throwing an interception on the first offensive play of the game, Palmer threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 24 completions in 33 attempts. He and the Raiders scored 34 points. Some may want to hide behind the fact that James and Troy were not around this past Sunday. That's fine, but what was the excuse for the Denver game where Tim Tebow looked excellent and they did play? Between the two of them, Palmer and Tebow combined for 525 passing yards, five TD passes, one rushing touchdown and only the one turnover, which was the Palmer interception I mentioned. Six touchdowns for an average of three per game, 262.5 yards passing on average per game, 63 points scored for an average of 31.5 per game and just one turnover for a half a turnover on average per game against a bad QB and a mediocre QB? I'm sorry, but the blame can't be only on the personnel here. It's also got to be on Dick LeBeau and the rest of the coaches for having the team poorly prepared and failing miserably in making adjustments during games. There is no excuse whatsoever for QBs like Tebow and Palmer to be looking like All-Pros against us. None. I won't listen to any excuses as for why that happened. There shouldn't be any.
Now some will also blame this on Kevin Colbert for his bad drafting over the years with the one notable exception being LaMarr Woodley. Fine. I agree, he hasn't done the best job of drafting defense recently. However, let's say he begins to buck that trend and starts drafting very well defensively come 2013, 2014 and 2015. Great. That does pose a tiny problem though, especially if Dick LeBeau remains the defensive coordinator. According to a few geniuses on this site, it takes a minimum of two years and sometimes even three years before new players can understand the defensive scheme and make a big impact since it supposedly is a very difficult scheme to comprehend. This is all well and good when you have defenses like the Steelers had in the 2000s who were consistently great on a yearly basis and in the primes of their careers. That allows you to have the luxury of having rookies, second year and in a few cases, even third year players to get most of their run on special teams and learn such a complicated scheme as they gain more experience and go over the playbook more and more. They can develop at their own rates. However, this is a luxury that is no longer available when that once great defense is now becoming older, slower, injury prone and becoming less and less capable of forcing turnovers. They now need some young playmakers to step in for these less effective older players. As has been mentioned though, if Dick LeBeau is the defensive coordinator with the information given to you, it means that even if Kevin Colbert does a great job in drafting young playmaking replacements, we won't see the effects of those changes taking place for some time. That to me spells out why this organization need to get rid of Dick LeBeau for a younger, less stubborn defensive coordinator who is open to the possibility of rookies making impacts right away. We've seen around the league with other organizations that it can happen. However, it's not going to happen in Pittsburgh with a defensive coordinator who is too loyal to the older players supposedly runs such a complicated scheme. These days I'm beginning to think that scheme is more complicated for the Steelers themselves than opposing teams, but that's for another possible debate. It's time for LeBeau to either be fired or retire gracefully so we can get someone new in here who will come in with an aggressive philosophy and will allow rookies to possibly make huge immediate impacts which won't happen with LeBeau.