As eloquently as always, Steelers free safety Ryan Clark summarized the Steelers' defense through through games.
"We aren't whipping the man across from us," Clark told Tribune-Review reporter Alan Robinson. Perhaps even more to the point, Robinson also quoted defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as saying "in this business, you're never as good as you think you are, and you're never quite as bad as maybe they say you are. We're getting good effort and good plays, but not enough."
Yeah, that all seems about right.
So what do they do?
This defense needs a difference-maker. Their Week 5 opponents, the Eagles, got difference-making plays on the defensive side of the ball in a thrilling 19-17 win over visiting New York Sunday night. Philadelphia held Eli Manning and the Giants to just two third-down conversions in 10 attempts, and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie had an interception in the end zone.
The Eagles didn't get a sack, but their defense staved off the offensive-heavy Giants through to a long field goal attempt at the buzzer that fell short, making the Eagles the first team since the 1983 Vikings to start a season 3-1 and have a negative points differential (-17). They've won all three of their games by two points or less.
Philadelphia is doing what Pittsburgh's defense doesn't; it makes big plays when it needs to. Surrendering 4-7 yard gains on first down eventually leads to third and short situations. Against Oakland, they gave up a slew of third-down conversions. Against Denver, Peyton Manning ripped them on second down.
What was missing in the second halves of both of those games was the big play to help even things out. Against Philadelphia - a team that's winning in a multitude of ways, the defense will need to find a way to make consistent stops. If not, they're staring at the first 1-3 start in the Mike Tomlin Era.