The talk of the past week has been how awful the offensive line has been and how that has translated into a non-existant running game and Ben Roethlisberger stumbling and fumbling (literally) for his life. But what many are not talking about is how the defense has become uncharacteristically #1 in the league against the pass. But before you begin to pick up your jaw and do a dance of praise to the football gods, let’s venture as to why this is. The findings are a little unsettling.
Where’s Woodley…. and Timmons?
The inside dynamic duo that will cost the Steelers $111.5 million over the next six years have been curiously absent for the past three weeks when the Steelers need a big stop or game changing play. Sure Woodley has 1.5 sacks and 11 tackles through three games. And, Timmons has 23 tackles with a pass defended – all decent numbers to this point. But, the Steelers didn’t pay $111.5 million over six years for ‘decent.’ For a defense that’s been criticized as being ‘too old’ it’s two young premiere linebackers have been about as effective as what the critics would want you to believe about all the grey hairs on that team. They are paid to make big plays and game changing plays. But it’s not entirely their fault. LeBeau has been changing up his defensive schemes a bit. There’s been less blitzing which means the linebackers are falling back into coverage more often. That would help justify the less than stellar stats from our boys inside. Now whether Timmons and Woodley dropping back for coverage has had a direct impact on the passing defense is a little more difficult to make a direct correlation – but I think it’s safe to say it helps increase the passing defense’s effectiveness (Timmons is a very good coverage linebacker). The less blitzing and more focus on coverage will also account for the run defense being so poor.
Face Me Ike is For Real
Ike Taylor has always been categorized as a ‘shut down corner.’ That has never been truer these first three weeks of the season. He defended two passes in the beat down from Baltimore and hasn’t been thrown at much since. Aside from juked out of his shoes by Reggie Wayne on a double move against the Colts, Taylor has been all over his assignments. Worth the cash so far from the offseason? We’ll see how he handles Andre Johnson – one of the best in the league – this Saturday.
Gay Picked On But Not Burned
William Gay has started over ‘injured’ B-Mac for two games now. And, he’s been picked on quite a bit. He’s only been able to successfully defend one pass in those two games. The key with Gay is that he’s kept the receivers in front of him. He’s allowed a bunch of short route catches, but has yet to give up the big play we are so used to seeing from the primarily nickel corner. That helps the passing defense a ton – this team is good enough that eventually the short routes just won’t cut it.
What If It Were Peyton Manning?
One of the biggest reasons why the Steelers have been so successful in defending the pass has been from the strength (or lack thereof) of the opposing quarterback. Flacco, Jackson, Collins and Painter – quite the motley crew of QB’s (yeah yeah, shove it Baltimore fans). They aren’t the Peyton Mannings of the league, so it has been a rather easy go for the secondary the first three weeks. Of course it’s going to help that the first three/four QB’s you face go 55/98, 536 yards and 3 TD’s. Flacco was the only one who had a decent game against that secondary – but to relate to William Gay, all of those TD passes were short throws set up by Ray Rice’s running. Collins and Painter looked miserable (until late in the 4th) against a Steeler D that was not getting pressure on the QB’s for the most part. Some of the success of this defense’s passing defense must be attributed poor quarterback play. What if Peyton Manning played on Sunday night instead? Think the numbers would be the same?
I should also mention that guys like Brady, Brees and others are putting up Madden like stats so far this season. Those oppennents are getting torched for a ton of yards, which actually helps out Pittsburgh’s chances of sitting atop the #1 spot in passing defense. So, the question begs to be asked – how will the Steelers look on the leader boards after facing the Texans and Patriots by week 8?
We see now that the success of the passing defense has been part execution and lots of circumstance/fortune. How far that will continue only each week will tell. For the sake of the troubled offense, I hope the trend continues for the rest of the season.