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James Harrison: Steelers' defensive failures 'on the players' not the coaches

James Harrison has heard the word "soft" used to describe the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, and he wants to make sure people know the team's failures are on the players, not the coaches.

Gregory Shamus

Pittsburgh Steelers fans are not used to seeing their favorite team sport a defense that isn't ranked in the top 10 overall in the NFL. But they saw that happen in 2013, and are seeing it again in 2014.

That simple fact has many fans wondering if Hall of Fame player/coach Dick LeBeau has seen his better years come and go as defensive mastermind of the 3-4 zone-blitzing scheme.

There are valid arguments with regard to LeBeau and his system, but one person unwilling to hear anything of the sort is veteran outside linebacker James Harrison.

"I hear coach LeBeau, a lot of people say he's too old," Harrison told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That's bull. The defense works. Players have to play the defense. Period. It's on the players."

This part of the debate typically leads to the question of whether the failures of the defense are based around scheme or personnel.

Count James Harrison as someone that sees this as a personnel issue.

"The scheme is the same, the calls are the same," "The defense works. It's been proven that it works for years and years. The defense has always been ranked in the top nine or 10 since coach LeBeau got here, except for last year and now. The only thing that changes is the players."

It's difficult to argue that theory based on the success LeBeau has had as a defensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet some fans still want to compare the 2014 defense to the 2008 version that brought a sixth Lombardi trophy back to Pittsburgh.

"Everyone wants to compare this defense to the 2008 defense," said Harrison. "You can't compare those two defenses. You can't compare 2008 to any of our defenses we had. You had a whole different group of guys."

So if you buy into Harrison's philosophy of the defensive issues being about the personnel and not about LeBeau's system, something certainly needs to change for this defense to see success and, according to Harrison, it isn't all that complicated.

"Let's be plain and honest, let's cut out all the bull - it's about you dominating your man, period," "That's all there is to it. That is what Aaron Smith did. That's what Casey Hampton did. That's what they did. They dominated."

Harrison makes valid points on all accounts but he has also been a very open supporter of Dick LeBeau the coach and the man. He was moved to tears in an interview done last year when talking about LeBeau while Harrison was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

But Harrison's comments don't change the question of whether this current crop of Steelers' defenders has the skill and ability to run LeBeau's system to it's fullest.