Nov 25, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau yells on the sidelines in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Is Dick LeBeau a hindrance to Steelers Defense?

Only a handful of days until training camp starts and for most of us, the regular season opener against Tennessee can’t come soon enough. Many debates have sprung up regarding what type of season the Pittsburgh Steelers will have. Aside from from the storm of bad PR from Maurkice Pouncey’s bad decision to wear a “free Hernandez” hat, it has been a mainly quiet off season for the black and gold.

Many of us have opened up debates on what the Steelers will look like in 2013, doing a position by position analysis or a game by game overview. And while some predict a down year for our beloved team, many of the fans feel quite differently, and have had no problems speaking their minds. Lots of our focus has been on what the defense will be like this season since defense has been a Steelers strength for most of their history. We’ve evaluated stats from last year ad nausea, talked about various players, etc. Looking at it all I’ve come to a conclusion that may be hard to swallow: Dick Lebeau has become a hindrance to the Steelers.

First off, I respect Lebeau as much as any coordinator in the league. He is a well deserved Hall of Famer both for his playing with the Lions but perhaps more as a coordinator and his development of blitz packages and other defensive schemes. At times his blitzes confused offenses, throwing them into disarray and other teams stole his ideas. However, of all the major sports, pro football continually evolves and now the offense has moved ahead of defenses. New players, such as RG III or Colin Kaepernick have taken offenses to new places and head coaches like the Eagles Chip Kelly have brought their high tempo offenses from college. Defenses are now playing catch-up and for the first time I feel the Steelers under Lebeau have fallen behind. For many years it was the other way, but I now believe his schemes that brought success in the form of two Superbowls may be now hurting the team.

Now, I know many of you will continue to point out how the Steelers were again at or near the top statistically in defense and I will not nor have not argued that point. What is hurting the team as I have said is a dramatic decline in turnovers and defensive touchdowns. Even the team’s sack total has dropped. Now some of that could be attributed to injuries or ineffective play (hello Lamar Woodley), but I feel it’s the fact that Lebeau’s schemes prevent rookies who may be able to make an instant impact from doing so. Under Lebeau, Steeler defenders seem to serve an apprenticeship, much as they did under Chuck Noll, starting out on special teams and playing in spots until it is felt they are ready to become starters. I have no doubt that 2013 first rounder Jarvis Jones can make an impact in the pass rush. Problem is, the player he is battling, Jason Worilds has several years experience with Lebeau’s defense and due to that may just be plugged in, the apprenticeship system continuing. As I have written, I do believe former first rounders Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward have been near busts, due to a combination of having to learn a complex defense and then simply being ineffective playing in it. Hood is in his contract year which may mean the light will go on, he’ll play great and then walk. I doubt that will happen, but that’s just me.

Yes this Steelers defense is in serious transition, losing stalwarts Casey Hampton and James Harrison as well as up and coming CB Keenan Lewis. Promising 4th year player Steve McClendon is expected to take Hampton’s spot but there is no depth behind him. Worilds and Jones are battling for Harrison’s old spot and third year player Cortez Allen is expected to take over Lewis’ old spot. I believe Allen is a better player than Lewis in the long run so I’m not too upset by his departure. Worilds has flashed moments but he’s battled injuries which has held him back, not to mention the presence of Harrison and Woodley ahead of him. With so much youth at key spots, it might be beneficial to simplify things a little in the beginning and figure out their strengths and build to that, rather than the players conforming their talents to the scheme. Remember, the New York Giants ‘tailored’ their defense to exploit the strengths of OLB Lawrence Taylor and he revolutionized the position. Lebeau has in the past altered his defenses to highlight DB Troy Polamalu’s rare gifts to their benefit. Now perhaps the team doesn’t have a player that warrants the same treatment, but unless they give these guys a chance how will they know?

Offenses are spreading defenses out now like never before and OLBs need to be equally adept at dropping into coverage as well as rushing the quarterback. I think the Steelers need to alter their look a little, go into more 4 man fronts, and give their ends a chance to rush the passer and take some of the heat off of Woodley and co. in the pass rushing department. They need to be more aggressive in trying to strip the ball more and batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. Too often last season it seemed like the Steelers defense was letting the oppostion dictate the game and then reacted to it. With a new patch of high octane players and offenses coming in, they can no longer afford to do that. I really feel if the Steelers defense is to evolve with the 21st century offenses they face, they should look to college defensive coordinators who have experience facing these up tempo attacks. I don’t think Lebeau is the right man for the job anymore. Yes, he has been one of the most influential coaches when it comes to blitz packages and run defense. However, I believe his schemes prevent rookies from making an immediate impact and no longer are adept at generating turnovers. I’m sure many of you have the opposite view. I’d like to hear them.
Tell me what you think out there in Steeler nation!!

follow me on twitter @scott8871

Next Steelers Game View full schedule »
Thursday, Aug 2828 Aug7:30Carolina PanthersBuy Tickets

Tags: Dick Lebeau Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Chad

    I for one detest this article to the up most. Look at our third down stat that is the problem not dick. We stop teams all the time last year till third down we need a higher conversion rate and that ain’t on the DC it’s on the players. Duhhh offenses are spreading teams out the defensive rules are so stiffling it’s easy to be pass happy in this league. Dick is the best in the game the defense needs more offensive action and less field time so they can go for the ball and the qb every down. So to blame the best DC in the game you need your head checked son.

  • Rascal Cat

    Ridiculous article. I was going to say the logic behind it was ridiculous but that would be using the term “logic” far too loosely.

  • emf

    Ok, a couple of things here. First, Chad and Rascal Cat need to learn some online etiquette. Chad, learn to use some punctuation , your run on sentences made me sick. And calling him ‘son’ is totally disrespectful. While Lebeau is good, he is no longer THE best in the game. Again fans, let’s put feelings aside and take a hard look. The Steelers D is still good, but no longer great. Scott is right, the turnovers aren’t there anymore and they only mustered 37 sacks all year. To say that the defenses ‘only’ problem is stopping people on third down is ridiculous. “Stop teams all the time?” really? So nobody scored on them until it was third down? C’mon man! Be real! I don’t think Lebeau is the only problem, but I think he is part of it. Rookies don’t get a chance to contribute much, but hopefully they’ll allow Jarvis Jones to be able to play a lot and make an impact. “Defense needs more offensive action”? another nonsense sentence. Great defenses can be great offenses too, like creating turnovers, thus giving the ball to Ben &co. with a short to medium field to work with. If I’m correct, they had 10 int all of last year. How is that helping the offense? To suggest that the only issue was on third down shows either how much of a homer you are or have little football sense. Sorry to be so blunt, but you asked for it.
    It takes a lot of balls to suggest that a Hall of Fame coach, one of the best defensive coordinators ever may be past his prime, and I give Scott credit for doing so, and then opening up for intelligent debate. Sadly all he got thus far are you to who offered nothing but personal attacks. When should Lebeau go??? He’s 77 is I’m correct. Why not let him bow out now while he’s still amongst the best (again no longer THE best)? It’d be a shame for him to go a year too late. I like Lebeau a lot, but maybe we need to be realistic about things, and stop looking at our black and gold through rose colored glasses. I don’t always agree with everything I read on this site, but these guys do have the courage to be honest about things. Yes, fans get defensive because we love the Steelers. But the comments from Chad and Rascal are ridiculous. Take a harder look at things fellas, and maybe the logic won’t be as ridiculous as your responses were.

  • Blind Mellow Jelly

    Man, I agree with you one million percent. I’ve been preaching that same sermon for at least 3 years. The most embarrassing moment was that call that let Tebow beat us in the playoffs 2 years ago. And Ike Taylor is a bum that should have been cut 5 years ago.

    • scott sinclair

      I don’t know if I’d label Taylor a bum, more like overrated. I did make similar comments in earlier pieces about poor drafting of late and an overall lack of passion on the team which also got me branded as an ‘idiot’ by people. Can’t have it both ways folks, it’s either the players or the coaches.

      • jayman419

        Maybe it really isn’t either the players or the coaches?

        Break it down however you want, crunch numbers till the little = sign falls off your calculator, the goal of the defense is to prevent points. And last year our defense ranked #5 in points allowed.

        In fact since he came back, LeBeau has never finished a season with his defense ranked outside the top 10.

        You seem to be looking at this from the point of view that, since the Steelers didn’t win the Super Bowl, someone somewhere must have done something wrong. But you need to realize that winning a Super Bowl is just as much about everything (all those little factors that are outside the control of the players and the coaches) going *right*.

        Last year we had a trip to the playoffs in our hands right up until the end of December. (And that’s with Polamalu missing half the season and Big Ben getting sidelined for 3 games.) The two years before that we were in the big show. Do you know how many fans would make a blood sacrifice to see their teams in that position year after year after year?

        • scott sinclair

          I respect your response and I have no argument with it. I’m not a Superbowl or bust kind of fan, if I see my team give 110% and still come up short, I’m fine with that. But it’s my feeling and opinion that the team is at a crossroads, I think things have been in decline since Tebow beat us in OT. I really don’t think they play with fire anymore and I don’t feel they have good depth on defense. I blame the coaches for not putting the young guys out there more in their rookie seasons so we don’t have to wait until year 3 or 4 for these guys to make an impact.

          Yes, there is a lot that is out of players and coaches control that can go right or wrong, things that can make a season 8-8 or 10-6 and a Superbowl. What I’m doing though is looking at the team piece by piece and focusing on the things that are in their control. I’ve looked at poor drafting, whether or not Tomlin is a good motivator, etc. While we keep hearing how stat wise the team was best in terms of fewest yards allowed, , the fact is they only had 10 int all year and that’s not good enough. Coupled with 37 sacks this isn’t the same type of aggressive, play making defense we’ve seen in the past. With an offense with a bunch of question marks (Ben’s health, Heath’s health, who will emerge as the feature back and deep threat at WR, the constant OL struggles), we need the defense to be the one constant. I’m just not sure they are right now. We NEED guys like McClendon, Hood, Heyward, Worilds, Cortez Allen to step up this season. I really love the depth at LB, but the DL has some issues, same at corner.

          We can’t simply assume that since these are the Steelers they don’t have issues and that they will always be in the playoff hunt. The Packers, 49ers, Bears, Cowboys have all had their down periods, why are the Steelers different? And why can’t we be honest that there are issues and problems with our team? Hey, I’d love to see Bell run like Bettis and for Wheaton to be an impact guy. I’d love to see Stephens-Howling give us that home run threat on kick returns. Above all I’d love to see this team play with intensity and fire that I feel was missing last year. What’s the harm in putting this team under the microscope piece by piece and giving it a good look?

          • jayman419

            Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I appreciate that you took the time to clarify your points, rather than simply saying I was wrong and shutting it down. It did a lot to help me understand where you are coming from, and I agree with some of the things you’ve said.

            Part of the reason that rookies don’t get more time on the field is because of how complicated it is to teach them LeBeau’s defense. They need that extra time to get the system and it’s terminology lodged into their brain to the point that it’s second nature. Throwing them to the wolves early might do more harm than good, because all of these players have the athletic gifts… they need to play with confidence. And damaging that confidence by putting them in a situation that doesn’t have the best chance for their success could ruin them.

            I don’t agree that the Steelers have been drafting poorly (or even poorly compared to the expectations for the Steelers). Pouncey, Sanders, Brown .. BR rates 2010 a solid B. 2011 got us a lot of depth on defense, and hopefully those guys will be ready to start taking the next step soon. 2012 looks like we have a couple of guys who could be key in a year or two. It’s not easy to evaluate specifically because of the way rookies (and even second and sometimes third year guys) spend so long working to develop their skills before they get a chance to step in and start.

            Tomlin has had a lot of success (much of it based on the team Cowher built), and one thing that troubles me (and I’m sure it’s one of the factors that you picked out for the lack of fire) is the way he frequently lets veterans skip practices later in the season, usually right about the time we should be gearing up for our big push. He talks big,

            Sacks and INTs are certainly something we could stand to improve on, but again, our D allowed less points per game than 27 other teams. They pulled their weight last year. And hopefully the sacks will improve, because Harrison really just wasn’t himself last year. I mean 6 sacks isn’t a horrible number, but it’s enough that teams weren’t really worried about gameplanning him. And since teams didn’t have to focus on him so much, they were able to do more against the other guys.

            Resolving the confusion with Haley’s new playbook (which they’ve worked on this offseason, especially replacing Haley’s calls for plays that the team were already familiar with with the old terminology) should go a long way towards letting the O put up more points.

            It’s not that I think the Steelers are immune to a change in fortune. I just think we still have a strong core of quality players, and we still have Big Ben. I’m fairly confident that the Steelers will be fine. (I’m fairly *certain* that they’re gonna continue to drop games that should be gimmes, though.)

            Now that I know where you’re coming from, scrutinizing everything and everyone, top to bottom, I can say that I agree with your approach, and look forward to reading more about it.

            Thanks again for taking the time to do this for me.

  • billthedog

    you’re an idiot. better to look at the failures of bringing in quality players with fire, emotion, and ability through the draft than question a proven philosophy

  • JohnB

    “However, of all the major sports, pro football continually evolves and now the offense has moved ahead of defenses. New players, such as RG III or Colin Kaepernick have taken offenses to new places and head coaches like the Eagles Chip Kelly have brought their high tempo offenses from college.”

    i do believe that we beat RGIII with his “new places”. as with most Rookie QBs.

    And many GREAT players have come and gone under Lebeaus time in Pitt. but he still comes out with the number one defense almost every year. and while i do agree that at some point Butler needs to take over, if its not broke dont fix it. Nobody beats us with the deep ball. and number one defense last year with ALL the probowl players missing at least 3 games each and woodley underperforming.
    Depth and the overtime loss in Denver were not Lebeaus fault. not only that but you cant name me 3 DCs better (and more consistant) than Lebeau. this article is crazy.