Steelers defense may just lack talent

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers defense has yielded five plays of 40 yards or more over the past two games. Did Dick Lebeau's unit suddenly forget how to tackle? Probably not. More than likely, the problem is with the age and talent-level on the roster.

The Steelers defense yielded 393 yards in their 34-27 defeat at the hands of Minnesota before a packed house at Wembley Stadium in London, England on Sunday.

Included in those 393 yards were plays of 51, 60 and 70 yards. This after giving up plays of 41 and 55 yards in the Week 3 loss to the Bears. I know what you're going to say, "The coaches should spend a little more time on tackling drills during the bye week."

This is just a guess, but I'm thinking they already have been focusing on that. Dick Lebeau is in the Hall of Fame. Sure, maybe it was for his awesome career as a defensive back for the Lions, but I'm pretty sure being known as one of the best defensive coordinators who ever lived didn't hurt when the committee was deciding on his candidacy.

Who else is on the Steelers defensive coaching staff? Ah, yes, coach Mitchell. If there was ever a guy who would spend hours concentrating on tackling, positioning, technique, and all those other things, it's defensive line coach John Mitchell.

When you also add in Keith Butler and Carnell Lake, it's probably safe to say tackling is emphasized quite thoroughly in Steelers training camps and practices.

Besides that, with a defense full of players named Polamalu, Clark, Keisel and Taylor, if they don't know how to tackle by now, well.............

Maybe there's nobody to blame other than Father Time. NBC's graphic from a week ago said it all: "With an average age of 29.7, the Steelers defense is the oldest unit in the NFL."

You can teach tackling all you want, but it's not going to matter if a player is two steps out of position because of the ravages of time.

Having said all that, there has been a bit of a youth movement on Pittsburgh's defense--partly due to Father Time, and partly due to injuries--but a lot of the guys in the youth movement don't necessarily have high pedigrees and high ceilings, so therefore, maybe tackling is something they'll always struggle with. Perhaps tackling is not something that can just be taught. Maybe it's an ability that a player either naturally has the instincts for or he doesn't.

Can it be improved upon? Absolutely.

There are things you can do to teach a person to jump higher or run faster, but if that person doesn't already have the natural athletic ability, the improvements aren't going to be very noticeable.

Perhaps, the same holds true for tackling. In players like Vince Williams, Shamarko Thomas, Al Woods, Robert Golden and Kion Wilson, you have a group that is comprised of mid-to-lower round draft picks and undrafted free agents.

There have been a lot of great stories written about these players and their awesome attitudes and desire to get better.

However, anyone can have desire. Any person on the street could put on a football uniform and demonstrate "want to," but that's not going to necessarily mean they'll have the ability to get in position to tackle anyone.

If just anyone could get better through hard work and determination, the "all-time greats" would be less original and memorable because there would be so many more of them.

I've heard it mentioned a time or two that the Steelers defense is good, but the players just aren't tackling very well. However, isn't tackling just about the most important aspect of defense? It would be like saying a receiver is great in all areas except catching the football.

I don't know if there's a whole lot more that can be done to make the 2013 Steelers defense better at tackling (or taking the football away, for that matter). When you have some of the best and most innovative minds in the business on the job, and it's still not leading to success, maybe it just comes down to age and talent.

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