I know that a number of members of “Steeler Nation” have returned to the “LeBeau/Defense” Kool-aid bottle over the last two weeks, and they are welcome to their own opinions’. Yet as nice as the wins have been to watch, Pittsburgh’s inconsistent and less than stellar pass rush has continued to make me quite uneasy when the Defense is on the field. Lost in all of the hype has been the glaring fact that Pittsburgh’s Defense has continued to struggle to pressure the opposing Quarterback, and have only recorded 1 Total Sack over their current 2-game winning-streak. As it stands, unless the Steelers’ pass-rush begins to improve against their more formidable foes down the stretch, the Defense might be in some serious trouble. Unfortunately, this weekend’s matchup against the Giants could be one of those instances.
The 2012 Pass Rush or Lackthereof
The Steelers have had their fair share of issues when it has come to pressuring the opposition this year, and have been largely infrequent guests opponents’ backfields over their first 7 games. Whether it has been due to injuries, poor schemes, or just downright sub-par play, Pittsburgh’s pass-rush has been as non-existent as ever this season.
Overall, Pittsburgh’s Defense has only registered 12.0 Sacks on the year (T-24th), and have their 33 year-old Inside Linebacker (Larry Foote), and spot-starter/rotational player at Outside Linebacker (Jason Worilds) leading the team in the statistical category. The team’s $61.5 Million Dollar investment LaMarr Woodley has been largely ineffective (2.0 Sacks) due to his nagging hamstring. Plus, I am sure that it has not helped that one of the big reasons behind his past statistical success, James Harrison, has been injured as well and is playing like the recently returned from a knee injury 34-year old he is.
While the Sack numbers are low, the lack of any sort of pressure on a consistent basis has left Pittsburgh’s weak and injured Secondary exposed numerous times and ripe for the plundering by the opposition.
Have we seriously not forgotten about the complete carving administered by a fresh-off the neck injury Peyton Manning in Week 1? How about when Carson Palmer and the Raiders racked up 34 points and had ZERO punts in the 2nd Half in Week 3? Michael Vick with a go-ahead 17 Play 79 Yard drive that lasted 8:18 late in the 4th Quarter of Week 5? What about the 4th Quarter meltdown in Tennessee? You know, the game in which Ike Taylor was absolutely abused by Kenny Britt all night? Heck, the Redskins’ back-up pass-catchers were running free all Sunday long, and had acres of space at their disposal as “RGIII” stood like a statue for most of the game!
How the Giants Could Capitalize
The biggest reason why the Giants will be such a tough opponent for the Steelers’ Defense and their anemic pass-rush has to do with their Offensive Line’s performance this year. Much like Pittsburgh’s, New York’s six-man combination of Center David Baas, Guards Chris Snee and Kevin Boothe, and Tackles David Diehl, Sean Locklear, and Will Beatty have congealed, improved, and played well over the course of this season. In fact, after New York gave up 3 Sacks in their season opening loss to Dallas, the Giants’ Offensive Line has only surrendered 4 over their last 8 games. On the season, the Giants have allowed the fewest amount of Sacks (7), and the stat is even more incredible when one considers the fact that New York has attempted the 7th most passes (296) of any team in the League!
In addition to their ability to keep the pass-rush at bay, New York’s Offense will be at a decided advantage if they hold the Steelers’ pass-rush back because of Pittsburgh’s numerous issues in the Secondary. I tip my cap to the Steelers’ Secondary because without Troy Polamalu, they are at a decided disadvantage against most opponents, but still gave gutty performances over the last two weeks. Nevertheless, I still would really like to see is whether or not the members of Pittsburgh’s Secondary can step up their games’ against some tougher competition personnel-wise, not the likes of Ryan Whalen, Andrew Hawkins, Aldrick Robinson, Josh Morgan, an aging Santana Moss etc..
Watching starters Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis try to contain Victor Cruz (52 Catches, 650 Yards, 7 TD’s) and Hakeem Nicks (26 Catches, 380 Yards, 1 TD) will be a difficult task in and of itself if there is little to no pass-rush. What I truly fear however is if Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Lawrence Timmons, and whichever Safety combo is healthy (Ryan Clark could be out & Troy Polamalu is), cannot adequately cover some of New York’s secondary pass-catchers like Domenik Hixon, Martellus Bennett, Rookie Rueben Randle, or even the big Ramses Barden. I am sure the Giants have seen how the Steelers’ Defense has been torched over the years when spread out and attacked with a quick and accurate passing game. If New York does go this route, and Manning can actually take his time in the pocket, no Defensive Backs or personnel in pass-coverage, no matter how good they are, can hold the Giants Offense off for extended periods of time.
I for one could not be happier to see this Defense face-off against the Giants this weekend, because we as viewers will be able to better gauge exactly how improved/not improved this unit actually is against a formidable foe. In addition, I am intrigued to see if there are any signs of life from the pass-rush, and continue watching how Harrison is responding on a week-to-week basis off of his injury. Pittsburgh might be a formidable Defense on paper, but I still have my reservations about this unit. They not only have displayed issues with accumulating Sacks and creating pressure, but they also have had their problems taking the ball away (7 Takeaways T-31st), and getting off of the field on 3rd Downs (44.05% Opp. Conv. 28th). I just hope that the pass-rush will bring their “A Games’” this weekend to help the Defense improve in these aforementioned areas. Otherwise it will be a long day if Eli Manning is allowed to scan the field and pick apart Pittsburgh’s inconsistent and injured Secondary with his bevy of pass-catching weapons.
Chime in Readers: Will the Steelers’ pass-rush show up this weekend? Will it show up at all this season? Will the Defense step up against a more formidable foe?