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Steelers defense coming to grips with his place in league stats

The Steelers defense is getting killed by big plays, and can be fixed by preventing big plays. It's that simple, yet, that difficult.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo sought out the Steelers' defense in a feature regarding the dismal state of the Steelers' run defense in Saturday's edition.

If nothing else, they're remaining optimistic about their chances of improving on the league's 29th best numbers.

One way to do that is to push the biggest entries on the line graph to the left - or, eliminate the big runs. They've allowed runs of 50 yards or more the last two weeks. It started with a 55-yard run by Bears running back Matt Forte, and continued with a 60-yard run by Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.

"If you take away those runs, I bet those numbers would be all right," defensive end Brett Keisel told Fittipaldo. "That number can go away pretty quickly. That's what it is. We've been good around here for a long time because we haven't given up big plays. For us to be good, we have to do that."

To dust off our maths skills, taking away those two runs would drop them to an average of 94 yards a game - 8th best in the NFL. So Keisel's right. Taking away 31 percent of the yards they've allowed this season would drop their average down quite a bit.

But that's exactly the problem, isn't it? They've given up plays that would have been the second and third longest they've allowed on the ground over the last two years. And they did it in back-to-back games.

Fittipaldo asked Steelers free safety Ryan Clark about it as well, and he offered up more specific of a reason why they're mired in Jacksonville-ish territory.

"What is unique here, what we take for granted and what the media takes for granted is we have very good secondary tacklers," Clark said. "We make a lot of plays in space. I watch film constantly of other teams, and they don't make them."

Like Keisel, Clark is right, and it extends to the passing game as well. Greg Jennings' 70-yard touchdown of a quick hitch was the result of several blown tackle opportunities, not some high-level throw by Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel - whose numbers are pedestrian without that throw (15-for-24 for 178 yards and one touchdown). Arbitrarily removing stats at one's discretion can make anything seem better than it is, but identifying the problem is the first step in fixing it.

In the Steelers' case, it's putting guys with the ball on the ground before they reach the end zone - especially when they're starting 50 or more yards away from that end zone.

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