“Because he’s Dick LeBeau. Does that answer your question?”
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.
Like “NPC” on Facebook: Nice Pick, Cowher