The Difference Makers

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Monday, September 24th, 2012
By Tiger Rowan
Steelers Fever Columnist


If one were to scour Steelers message boards, there is one ubiquitous theme: Fire Dick LeBeau. I have heard it time & time again. And, being the defensive coordinator for the Steelers, some culpability should indeed be directed his way. Regardless of blame, the fact is that LeBeau does not have the players to run "his" defense.

Of course, the counter-arguement would be that if LeBeau does not have the players, one might suggest that he simply alter his scheme. Well... hmmm... that is easier said than done (but, I will get back to that idea later on).

LeBeau's defensive philosophy, in its simplest form, is this: keep everything in front of the defense... and after enough plays, the offense will make a crucial mistake. This philosophy has worked for a long, long time... but, not necessarily due to the scheme; I contend that it is the players that have made it successful.

We are all familiar with LeBeau's formula: the cornerbacks play ten yards off; the opposition can have anything underneath/anything short; and after making an opponent drive down the field, taking ten to thirteen plays... at some point, a "difference maker" WILL rise up, and create a "splash" play: an interception, a forced fumble, a momentous sack, and/or a key tackle on third down.

In the 90s, the difference makers were Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake, and Rod Woodson. In the early part of the 2000s, it was various players, such as Joey Porter, James Farrior, Kendrell Bell, and even Casey Hampton. For the past few years, it has been James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. And, alas, currently... there is NO ONE making "splash" plays on this defense.

One can sit here, and cry over spilled milk and complain about not having any good linebackers, but that does nothing to help turn this season into a winning one. Instead, for the solution, one needs to look at a bitter rival: the Patriots.

Bill Belichick runs a similar type of "bend but don't break" type of defense to LeBeau's. The Patriots allow teams to move the ball into the red-zone rather easily, but the Patriots almost always force the opposition to kick field goals. Meanwhile, Tom Brady and that stellar offense, score touchdowns. The Patriots swap touchdowns for field goals, and in turn, they simply outscore their opponents. And, no one ever really complains about Belicheck's defense. Why not? Because his teams regularly win.

Back to the Steelers.

The Steelers no longer have the necessary defensive players to hold opponents to 20 points or less. This is not the 2008 record-setting defense, that fielded James Harrison & Troy Polamalu in their primes. This is not the 2001 defense, that had a young Casey Hampton stuffing the middle single-handedly. This is not the 1990s Blitzburgh defenses, that had fielded four Pro-Bowl caliber linebackers. And, this is absolutely not the 1970s Steel Curtain defense.

Speaking of the 1970s, the last two SuperBowls in that decade were not defensively won (despite how people talk about the defensive prowess of those teams); the offense was hitting on all cylinders, with Stallworth & Swann. It was the offense that won those Lombardi Trophies. Likewise, this current Steelers team is simply going to have to rely on the offense.

And fear not, because this offense is starting to turn into something special.

Lost amid the doom & gloom of this loss, was the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was hitting everything. He looked calm & in control. He was checking down, while also hitting receivers deep. And, most importantly, even better that his gaudy yardage numbers, was the impressive fact that he was spreading the ball around to ten different receivers. Thirty-one points by this offense is what we have all dreamed of, since April 2004.

I agree that it is frustrating to lose a shoot-out, especially since we Steelers fans are so used to eking out defensive battles. To which I say: James Harrison & Troy will be back. While they are shells of their former selves, they still have a few bullets left in their chambers. All the Steelers needed against the Raiders was one more "splash" play... heck, all they needed was one touchdown drive stopped and/or a field goal kicked instead. And, I am certain that James & Troy will make that little bit of difference.

In summation, next year's draft can be heavily defensive minded (a safety, a nose tackle, and a linebacker... or three), but for the remainder of this season, all the Steelers need to do is hold opponents to the occasional field goal... and ride the coattails of their "difference making" quarterback.

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