Shortly after the financial crisis, I found myself with one question. "How does the economy just LOSE billions of dollars? Dollars aren't just like car keys. Where did all the (insert profanity here) money go?"
Last night, I asked myself a similar question about the Stillers. "Where did all the defense go?" The Steelers for the first time ever let another team basically explore their collective anal cavity with a meaty trucker fist. And this wasn't one of those flukey weird games, this was an outright offense-gasm from a team that had been relatively impotent recently.
First of all, let me start by saying I hate this season and it stanks! Being a Steelers fan right now is like being married to a woman who just a couple of years ago was smoking hot! She had big supple knockers, a tight ass, and legs for miles. And now those sweater puppies are sagging past her navel, her butt just got all lumpy and weird, and the legs have so many varicose veins they look like a highway map.
What happened? How did we get here? And can we fix it? In the words of Bob the Builder and Obama (who I secretly imagine as an alcoholic that yells at his team off camera, Bob, not Obama, but maybe him too right now, hmm..) YES WE CAN.
The PIcksburgh Stillers have always been known for Defense. Defense is like Heinz Ketchup, it must always be available and nothing else will suffice. The emphasis on defense hasn't changed, nor has the expectation of it in the Steel city. But our defense is a wisp of vapor where there was once a blinding fog.
The Steelers defense was built around 3 basic concepts:
1. Don't let the other team get on sportscenter's top ten. Ever.
2. Murder the quarterback. Always.
3. Stop the GD run.
During our glory run of the 00s we were successful in all three phases. Rarely giving up big plays meant that teams needed to string together many successful plays in order to score. While this sometimes didn't work against superior opponents, it often kept them in check. Our ridiculous sack totals, from the days of Joseph Peezwald to James Harrison meant that QBs would typically shat their pants the night before a game, and often DURING the game. This creates turnovers. Because when a QB shits his pants, it's very hard to maneuver. By stopping the run, you forced more third and long situations which make #2 even more likely. And oh boy did we stop the run. I used to actually laugh out loud when teams tried to run up the gut on us. I used to think that any OC that called that play should be fired, because it'd be like a construction worker trying to drill a hole in a concrete wall with a toothbrush.
The beauty of this is that all three of these things meet in a glorious circle-jerk of defense. By stopping the run, you force situations where the QB can be violated with impunity, which reduces the likelihood of big plays, which eventually will make teams stop running altogether, which means MORE raping of the QB and LESS Big plays.
So what changed?
Contrary to what some people suggest, the NFL's change to a pass-heavy league honestly has very little to do with the principles of our defense. The core three tenets that I mentioned are still perfectly apt for this day and age. After all, stopping the run would have been a pretty nice thing to do at the start of the Oakland game last week.
However the change in NFL philosophy DOES mean that we have to emphasize that first point just a little more. That means having a good secondary. PIttsburgh and a Good Secondary (which is what I'm sure George W Bush called his secretaries) haven't really been synonymous for the last ohhh I dunno 35 years. But now nickel sets need to be stronger than ever before. Still though, the NFL has been going pass-heavy for decades, and the 00s was no exception, so again I ask, what changed?
Point two has been the most notable difference in our decline. We used to rack up 40-50 sacks a year. And a lot of those would force fumbles. FACT: Nothing forces more fumbles than a terrifying Samoan rage machine leaping at your face. Just ask Joe Flaccid. Few things were scarier than Deebo coming to steal your jewelry and leave you destitute with no football.
But those players are simply out of the equation now. And we have yet to replace them. Woodley, for all his former glory, essentially fed off of the success of Harrison. He was the Clark Haggans to Joey Porter. Neither one of those guys is capable as an individual of changing a game. As part of a dynamic duo capable of WWF fame, sure, but solo, they ain't no lone rangers.
Lack of pressure means more pressure on the secondary. And since our secondaries are often weak, we've been giving up big plays since SB45. Need I remind you of the Tebowing. Or the Flacco raping on opening day the other year. Those types of games never used to happen. Now they're suddenly appearing closer and closer together.
This could all be mitigated by stopping the run. Except now we don't even do that. Once Aaron Smith, Big Snack, and Farrior all rode off into the sunset, our defense has had difficulty with the run. We've gone from giving up 1-2 yards to giving up 4-5 on regular carries. This makes 3rd and long impossible, and without 3rd and long, pressure is even harder to come by.
So where does that leave us?
I don't call for Dick LeBeau's head like many others. The scheme is functional. It could use some modifications and tweaking, for instance more coaching on DLs to get those hands up and block some passes, but overall the system itself DOES work. But it only works when we have the correct talent. And we have lost an amazing amount of talent in the last 3 seasons. Just take a moment and think about it.
On defense the following talented players are no longer with us:
Secondary: Keenan Lewis, Good Ryan Clark, Amazing Polamalu.
LB: Deebo, Farrior, Foote.
DL: Smith, Snack, Great Keisel, Hokey Pokey
If you're counting, that'a total of 7 players lost, and 3 in decline.
What talented players have we replaced them with?
.......................................TIMMY!!......Cameron Heyward.........The Conquistador Cortez......and yeah i'm tapped.
Granted there are other young guys who may soon make an impact, guys like Steve McClendon, Jarvis Jones and Thomas Shamarko. But even then I'm still only counting 5 people to replace 10.
The fact is, we lost a ton of talent in the last few years, and simply haven't been able to replenish it.
So where do we go from here?
We need to focus on drafting quality defensive players, and going back to our BPA methods. I feel like we've gotten a big more knee-jerky in recent years in the draft due to the terrible O-line, and it's coming back to bite us in the ass. Either that, or our scouting department needs a serious look. To only have 2 decent new players and 3 prospects is unbecoming of a Pittsburgh franchise that has always drafted better than the Amurican Army when Nazis take over.
We're getting frustrated as a fanbase and starting to call for the FO to lop heads, namely Tomlin, Haley, LeBeau, etc.. Cowher had a couple of terrible seasons early on as well. Haley, for all his faults, just put up 400 yards passing and his offense seems to be getting better every week, even if it does take 2 quarters to kick in. And it's kind of hard to execute your gameplan when you are down 14 early. LeBeau as I've mentioned is not the problem, it's talent.
We need to give these coaches time and we need to give them new fresh talent. A couple of great drafts would straighten us out. I would be in favor of trading off some of our aging players if it were possible, but for now we need to focus on getting younger, and getting better. Develop the young guys, and start actively searching for those diamonds in the rough, those needles in the haystacks. I want a huge crop of UDFAs next year. I want a big ass draft. I want some pro bowlers coming out of next year's selection.
Right now, with the personnel we have, you could ask the Lord himself to coach them and we'd STILL be screwed.
So, do what I do, drown your sorrows and try to black out so that you don't even realize this season is happening, and let's pray we can draft a team that can recover from this mess.