I hate to break it to all of you readers still imbibing on the “LeBeau/Defense Kool-aid,” but the 2012 Steelers’ Defense has simply not “cut the mustard” with their overall performance this season. Not only does this unit rank near the bottom of the League in numerous important Defensive statistical categories (listed at the end of the article), they have a litany of other issues which they must recognize, try to fix over the course of this season, and simply bite the proverbial “bullet” on for the time being. The issues are many, and range from…
- Once highly-touted/high-Round draft selections under-performing or not receiving ample opportunities to produce
- Backups not receiving chances to start or extra playing time over ineffective and “penalty-machine” veterans
- Stalwart & Hall of Fame veterans unfortunately showing their age and fragility
- Newer yet nevertheless experienced starters showing hardly any signs of development or improvement
- Injury-prone/Under-performing players sitting on “salary-cap constricting” contracts
(Home Fun for Readers: Go to the “Comments” section to try and match specific Defensive players to the specific categories.)
So what should the Steelers do about their problems on the Defensive side of the ball? Well, I am certainly no General Manager, but after I watched what the Green Bay Packers did in last April’s Draft, I feel like the Steelers should follow a similar course of action to at least provide some help to their struggling Defense before the current situation gets any worse in the future.
Green Bay & The 2012 Draft
The 2011 Packers’ Defense was not as awful as many people made them out to be, although “elite” was definitely not a word which should have described them. Last season, the Packers gave up the most Total Yards per Game in the League in 2011 (411.6), the Most Pass Yards per Game (299.8), but the team lived and died with the Turnover. Luckily for them, more often than not, the Turnover ratio worked out in their favor (+24 ratio in 2011), and their porous Defense was given some leeway because Aaron Rodgers and the Offense had such an incredible year. Unfortunately for Green Bay and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, when the Defense was unable to force Turnovers, and their inability to rush the passer plus inconsistencies in the Secondary reared their ugly heads’, all their worst fears came true. The Defense’s weaknesses were a huge reason why the 15-1 Packers were unable to repeat as Super Bowl champions, and it was quite obvious to anyone which watched them last year that some improvements on the Defensive side of the ball were needed.
To their credit, G.M. Ted Thompson and the rest of Green Bay’s Front Office & Coaching Staff saw how badly their Defense needed help, and were proactive about having their issues fixed. So when April rolled around, the Packers’ brass did not dawdle and ignore the task at hand. Green Bay used their first 6 Selections to pick the best Defensive players available which would fit their scheme, and most of all, spent the picks on players which could bolster their beleaguered unit in the short, and long terms. And this season, five of the Packers’ first six Defensive selections have seen some playing time and contributed nicely to the tune of:
Nick Perry OLB (1st Round): 6 Games, 5 Starts: 18 Tackles, 2.0 Sacks, 1 PD
Jerel Worthy DT/DE (2nd Round): 6 Games, 2 Starts: 9 Tackles, 2.0 Sacks
Casey Hayward CB (2nd Round): 6 Games as Nickel/Dime: 14 Tackles, 3 INT’s, 6 PD’s
Mike Daniels DT/DE (4th Round): 4 Games as backup: 3 Tackles, 1.0 Sack
Jerron McMillian S (5th Round): 6 Games as backup: 7 Tackles, 1 INT, 2 PD’s
While nothing absolutely out-of-this-world, the Packers have received some solid contributions from their 2012 Rookie class. The Defense as a whole has upped their games, and should be commended for their efforts. Yet to say that these Rookies have not had an impact would be a disservice to what they have accomplished so far in their short professional careers’. Worthy and even Daniels each have as many/more Sacks than Ziggy Hood (1.0), Brett Keisel (0), and Chris Carter (0) combined. In addition, Hayward as well as McMillian both have recorded more Interceptions than any Steelers’ Cornerback on the roster (0 combined from the entire group)!
As I watched last April’s Draft unfold, I could not help but give a “golf-clap” to the Packers and what they did. At the time, and now even more so, I must say that their overall strategy was downright awesome. To Thompson & Co., I am sure their strategy to draft as much talent as they did on Defense made perfect sense. Not only did it allow the organization bring hungry Rookies into the fold with loads of talent, the organization in turn lets the players already on the roster know that their performances at the respective stages in their careers’ was simply not up to par. With the influx of talent, the veterans and roster bubble guys which came off bad seasons were forced to step their collective games’ up to stick and improve with the rest of the unit.
Will these Green Bay Rookies have their own respective “growing pains'” for the time being, and mess up from time to time? Of course they will, and I am sure that some like McMillian, Daniels, and 5th Round selection Terrell Manning (Linebacker) will have to wait their turns’ more than Perry, Worthy, and Hayward will in terms of them getting to play a significant amount more than they are now. And hey, the Packers’ Defensive issues are not fixed by any means. They blew an 18 point lead against the Colts on the road, and did not look so hot in Week 1 versus the 49ers.
Nevertheless, I have been more or less impressed with Capers and the rest of his staff for trusting these players, as well as their confidence to allow them to develop “on the fly” as opposed to rotting on the bench before they are forced to make difficult decisions once the players step out on the field for their first “real” Defensive experiences in Years 2-4. In spite of their issues, this Packers unit has already stymied the likes of Jay Cutler, held their own against the Texans’ and enough against the Saints’ potent Offenses, and were a blown call away from a victory (only 7 points allowed until the “unpleasantness”) at Century Link Field in Seattle. Unlike the Steelers, at least the Packers’ Defense has taken significant strides this season, and there seems to be improvement on the horizon unlike the possible “dumpster fire” about to take place in Pittsburgh unless swift action is taken or improvements are made.
My ultimate hope is that if a load of young and talented Defensive players are drafted by Colbert & Co. next April, they are at least given the “green-light” to play if they are talented enough to do so. As it stands, the Steelers’ Defense needs significant help at each and every position. Some positions need more help than others, but either a new starter or significant and effective depth is needed at all 11 positions added to it. At least to me, what has gone on over the season’s first 6 Weeks is nothing short of just cause for some of Pittsburgh’s Defensive starters to either A) lose their jobs, or B) have their jobs put in jeopardy by an influx of young and more capable talent next April with increased competition either right now or in Training Camp next August.
As far as the 2013 Draft goes, I am not saying that the Steelers should completely abandon other possible needs by drafting solely on Defense. If a big “6’3”+” Wide Receiver or Every-Down Running Back are available at a valued spot, then by all means I understand the logic behind those selections. Yet if this team is to get any better, especially during Ben Roethlisberger’s “prime” years, a Defensive-heavy Draft Class like the Packers’ most recent one could be just what the Steelers need to help themselves improve. I mean, it can’t hurt to add more talent and attempt to upgrade what we’ve seen so far if it continues throughout the season, can it “Steeler Nation?”
(I remind you that the stat of 5th in Total Yards per Game Allowed is basically moot when the Offense ranks 2nd in Average Time of Possession, 34:16 per Game)
Mind you, these numbers below have been compiled against the Broncos, Jets, Raiders, Eagles, and Titans:
Points Per Game Allowed: T17th (23.0)
3rd Down % Against: 31st (49.2%, 29 for 59)
Opposing QB Rating: 21st (93.8)
Total Sacks: T20th (11.0)
Sacks per Game: 19th (2.2)
Rush Yards per Carry Allowed: 21st (4.1)
Pass Touchdowns Allowed: T19th (9)
Points per Play Allowed: 22nd (.401)
Red Zone Scoring Attempts per Game: 19th (3.4)
4th Quarter Points per Game Allowed: 27th (9.4) (Note: 2009 Defense gave up an average of 9.4 PPG in 4th Quarter)