Whether it's the players or the coaches, Sunday's shellacking shows team needs to move in a new direction

Jared Wickerham

Why can't the problem be both the players as well as the scheme? Whatever it is, wholesale moves will need to be made due to the simple concept current passing offenses can wreck this team.

Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu was quick to point out the positive attributes of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau after his defense was savaged for all-time lows in points allowed (55) and yards allowed (610).

"He's taking it very hard," Polamalu said, as quoted by Tribune-Review reporter Alan Robinson. "He's very prideful. That's why he's the best ever."

The fact the question is being asked - we can assume it was something about how LeBeau was taking the loss - combined with Polamalu's re-direct on the answer shows the defense's once-shining star is quick to defend the coach, who's likely to be maligned nearly as badly as his team did Sunday.

Whatever cliche fans will want to use...the game has passed him by, or his defense just doesn't work anymore, all of it is fair game and on the table.

No one should show Dick LeBeau the door. Right?

Maybe, maybe not.

Whether LeBeau goes or not, several players will have to get shown the door. Free safety Ryan Clark is already on his way out, as is defensive end Brett Keisel. After a strong start, Polamalu looks like the injured, under-conditioned shell of a warrior the way he looked last season. Sunday, he was jumpy, agitated and beaten as severely as he's ever been in his pro career.

Polamalu drew pass interference after leveling a Patriots receiver a solid second before the ball arrived. Looking at it on replay, it didn't even seem like Polamalu saw the receiver who was targeting on the pass. There was another a few yards over, and Polamalu seemed to quickly react to that one.

The one he was going for was Rob Gronkowski, a Steelers killer for the new era, and perhaps the biggest of all - Steve McNair and Derrick Mason combined, with another five inches of height. Polamalu was probably going for him because he knew he was open. He was all night.

Some of the responsibility of handling Gronkowski fell on cornerback William Gay. The Steelers played two Patriots teams with Gronkowski on it - in 2010, he shredded William Gay from the slot for five catches, 72 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers faced Gronk and Co. in 2011, he had seven catches for 94 yards but was held out of the end zone, as the Steelers limited the Patriots to 17 points.

The Steelers attacked Gronkowski with the bigger, longer and stronger Cortez Allen.

Allen played 36 of 76 defensive snaps, most of which came in the second half, after Gronkowski's assault on the Steelers over the first half (seven catches, 116 yards and a touchdown).

Apparently, Allen is worse of a player than he was two years ago, when he was a rookie. The only way Gronkowski's numbers would have improved is if he was covered by rookie safety Shamarko Thomas, not Gay, in the early part of the game.

Actually, he was. Pretty much every Steelers defensive back was locked on Gronkowski at one point, and he beat them all. He illustrated the exact problem with the Steelers as a whole, offensively and defensively; they have no one who can win a 1-on-1 match-up every time. Whether it was Gay, Allen, Polamalu or freakin' Rod Woodson, Gronkowski went by all of them - no one can match his size, it's why he's the best tight end in the game. But the Steelers barely even competed with him.

Thomas, the rookie and the heir apparent to one of two safety spots likely to be open next year, looked capable of handling none of what he will inherit next season. Victimized by the sheer size of Gronkowski, the most competitive play of Thomas's night in pass coverage was a yank on the back of Gradkowski, who was about to posterize him in the end zone for what would have been his second touchdown.

There's only so much coaching can when the 5-foot-8 Thomas is being carried to the far post by a 6-foot-6 tight end who's a better athlete in every discernible fashion. But there is something that can be done from a coaching standpoint to not give slot assignments to another shorter defensive back who's already been dominated by that player, while a much taller, longer and stronger one (Allen) sits on the bench.

Thank God for Cameron Heyward's pressure and Jason Worilds' two sacks. Bet you didn't expect to read about either of those concepts. Three sacks, one takeaway. And 610 yards allowed. Ye gads.

LeBeau can, and should, live on the cloud of other Steelers legends, regardless of what happens this season. He could take the high road, and leave this season amid the respect he deserves. But the continued stubborn insistence that this defense A.) has players good enough to run it and B.) works in a successful manner has now reached the point of ridiculousness.

It's fitting a unit so completely overmatched by the new elite NFL style allowed the most points in its franchise's history. Unfortunate, but fair. It may simply be time to move on.

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