Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

"Because He's Dick LeBeau" Is Not a Valid Excuse Anymore


“Because he’s Dick LeBeau. Does that answer your question?”

-Mike Tomlin (on why he has faith in his defensive coordinator)


I certainly appreciate how much Dick LeBeau has done as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator during his two stints with the franchise over the last three decades. Heck, one could argue that LeBeau will finish his career as one of the best assistant coaches in the history of the National Football League.

Yet as much as I can laud the successes of Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator, the fact that he can escape blame based on his name alone to people like Mike Tomlin is nothing short of ridiculous at this point.

LeBeau’s defense looked largely unprepared to play against the Tom Brady-led offense on Sunday, and New England’s quarterback and the rest of his offense thrashed the Steelers like they had done so many times in the past. Instead of employing the man-heavy coverage packages and jamming New England’s pass-catchers at the line of scrimmage as he did in 2011, LeBeau went to the soft-zone and Brady summarily ate Pittsburgh’s pathetic secondary alive.

Performances like the ones against New England however have represented a disturbing trend as of late: opposing offenses are starting to “figure” Pittsburgh’s defense “out” and take advantage of their weaknesses.

Granted, one can squawk about “total yards allowed” and how the Steelers “were ranked x, y, and z in rushing yards per carry,” but LeBeau’s defenses over the last few years have been completely deficient in two of the most important areas of the game: forcing turnovers and pressuring the opposing quarterback.

Pittsburgh ranked 17th (35.0) in total sacks in 2011, tied for 15th (37.0) in 2012, and they are tied for 29th (13.0) through nine games this season. Make no mistake, the recent loss of James Harrison, the weight-gain, injuries and poor-play of LaMarr Woodley, injuries and ineffectiveness of Jason Worilds and Chris Carter, and the inconsistent play of Jarvis Jones have not been easy to deal with for LeBeau and the Steelers.

As far as the lack of takeaways is concerned, the Steelers have been outright ineffective when it has come to taking the ball away from their opponents since 2011. Pittsburgh’s defense ranked last in the league with 15 takeaways in 2011, 25th last fall with 20, and they are currently stuck in 30th with only six of them this year.

In addition to those problems, opposing offenses and signal-callers are also beginning to take advantage of their familiarity with LeBeau’s scheme.

Brady, like most of the game’s best precision passers, eat the soft-zone employed by LeBeau alive when it is employed. They have been more than willing to “steal” four-to-six yards at a time through the air to set up their running game and longer pass plays down the field during the last decade.The fact that Pittsburgh’s run defense has been absolutely atrocious this fall (31st in rushing touchdowns allowed and rushing yards allowed per game) has not helped anybody either.

Sadly, it’s not only quarterbacks like Brady and Peyton Manning who have “wised up” to LeBeau over the last decade. Carson Palmer, who sliced and diced Pittsburgh’s defense last season in Oakland, used his knowledge of LeBeau and his schemes to his advantage to pull the upset win.

I should also mention that not only did Palmer find success recently, a geriatric Matt Hasselbeck, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, Terrelle Pryor, and Tim <bleeping> Tebow have all carved LeBeau’s defense en route to victories during the last two seasons.

Make no mistake, there is plenty of blame to go around in Pittsburgh for their recent 4-11 stretch during regular season play. Heck, this team has looked out of sorts for much of the last three seasons. The struggles of the defense during this stretch should not be solely placed upon LeBeau, but the longtime defensive coordinator should not be absolved of any blame whatsoever.

At least to me, “Captain Obvious” can make all of the snarky comments towards the media that he wants. Unfortunately, they will not mask the fact that LeBeau’s defenses have been ill-equipped to succeed during the last three seasons due to schematic and talent deficiencies.




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  • Kimmy

    I realize that at 2-6 there isn’t much that Tomlin can say that would please anyone at this point but honestly, I can’t help but feel like he’d get the same, if not more outrage if he came out there and said, “LeBeau is done, he’s too old and washed up to handle this job anymore, I can’t wait till I can fire him this offseason.” Would you have really rather Tomlin threw LeBeau under the bus for that game? Anyone can see that LeBeau’s defensive schemes just weren’t working on Sunday, no matter how you cut it and the numbers don’t lie as far as how badly this defense has performed the past season and a half. Would it be better if Tomlin trashed LeBeau every chance he got on top of it?

    • Dom DiTolla

      I’m not saying that Tomlin needs to trash LeBeau, but that ridiculous sound byte illustrated to me that the head coach has no idea how to handle the situation. He should have said something along the lines of, “I have faith that my coaching staff can identify our multitude of deficiencies and mistakes and attempt to correct them before our upcoming game versus Buffalo.”

      Plus, as I stated in the post, LeBeau is not the only person at fault. Simply absolving him of blame though, and trashing the media in the process, is not what Tomlin should be doing.

      • Kimmy

        I think his entire presser pretty much says what you want him to say, just not in those words, and not in his response to that specific question. You’re taking that one “ridiculous sound byte” and determining what you think his meaning of the whole press conference is from that and that isn’t fair either.

        • Dom DiTolla

          I did not intend to take the one sound byte and say that it encompassed his entire press conference. I just wanted to illustrated that LeBeau should not be absolved of blame for the unit’s struggles due to his track record and his name alone like so many want to do.

  • Brian

    I agree it is time for lebeau and haley to go I’m so ready for change that I can’t wait for this season to be over with

  • Justin

    Agreed. Lebeau is a living legend but I think it’s time he steps down at the end of this season. I imagine they’re waiting on him to make that decision instead of firing him or asking him to leave.

    He’s done so much for us but it’s just not working anymore. Offenses have cracked the LeBeau code and there’s egg all over the defense’s faces to prove it.

  • Niyi Delano

    i strongly dislike reading article like these that doesn’t speak to the true issues the steelers are having. Yes i blame the coaches but 95% of the blame goes to the players.

    Against the viking, we brought Troy down to play in the box, and because of that the corners played of the receivers. Simple concept, until the corners who were always touted as sure tacklers couldn’t tackle anyone. Lebeau makes changes and Peterson has a field day. Missed tackles here and there. That is the players fault not Lebeau.

    Against the Raiders, play number one was a debacle. The next day, Woodley told the Tribune, ” We trained all week for that, and then we let that happen on the first play.” Woodley didn’t get a single Tackle, i believe we are paying him about 13 million this years (could be off on his salary with all the restructuring). Rookie Jarvis Jone took numerous wrong angles, on one you can see LineBacker Coach Keith Butler yelling at him. Which also led to his benching. Again, this is not a Lebeau problem, it is a player problem.

    Against the Patriot it was even clearer. Amendola was wide open on numerous plays. I believe the first led to a touchdown. The patriots ran directly at the steelers and our Linebackers couldn’t bring down a finese runner. Will gay was school by a rookie still learning the ropes. Troy keeps taking wrong angles, and even on Gronk’s TD, he was double covered by Jones and Troy (Troy was late). Again this a player problem.

    The young players aren’t growing fast enough to cover up for the deficiency left by the likes of, Troy, woodley, Taylor, gay, and clark. I have said before and i will say it again. We couldn’t keep some of our good players because we invested in a select few. Now those few are getting way too old before before their contract is over and that is a big problem. It is also a big problem that we have not hit on our draft picks, since that’s how this team loves to build.

    Now to Lebeau, i blame him for sticking to the status quo. When he lost foote, he should have turned this defense to a Hybrid Defense. Again, it is like beating the same drum over and over. If i were in his shoes, i would use Mcledon and Wood as DT. Heywood, Woodley, Keisel, and even Wolrids can play end in some variation. When the line backers play end, Troy can play roaming LB, while Sharmako plays the SS position. By doing this, we keep our best players on the field at all times. I blame Lebeau for not trying this aproach and using it more. But as far as what is happening on the field after the ball is snapped, that is squarely on the players.

    • Dom DiTolla

      You dislike reading articles like these, yet you took the time to not only read this one, but also write a dissertation of sorts in the comments section? Thanks for reading though :)

  • k33ger

    Eh, this is trolling at its finest.

    Lebeau has his worst collection of defenders he’s ever had. Ryan clark is playing subpar, there’s no pass rush from the ROLB spot, our line has mediocre push, and cortez allen is regressing / ineffective when he was supposed to be rising.

    Troy is trying too hard. This defense is just not together and on the same page. Tbh, i think the problem is the defenders are all trying too hard and panicking because they are the Steelers D, and understand the pressure that comes with that. Numerous times the linebackers don’t let the play come to them, they try to force it and whiff.

    My opinion is we need less blitzing. We are not effectively able to blitz and get pressure. So we’re going to have to rely on 7-8 man coverage units and hope.

    As for benching people, there have been some moves, but really, the backups are not physically more talented then the starters, and they are all sucking. Lebeau is just doing the best he can. The team needs some Zen garden time, to recollect themselves and just play football.

    • Dom DiTolla

      Relying on 7-8 man coverage units is nice, but when they go soft-zone quarterbacks like Brady simply pick them apart. The Steelers don’t have the type of depth in their secondary to succeed like they have in years past.

      Also, dropping that many out of the box could make the run defense even more pathetic than it is now. Jackson and Spiller (if he plays) could be primed for big days this weekend.