By Jeremy Hritz
If you had a chance the other day to listen to the Wednesday wrap-up edition of The Terrible Podcast, you had the opportunity to listen to some very insightful analysis and discussion between Dave Bryan and David Todd. Most interesting was their discussion related to the current state of the Steelers defense and the reasons behind its dismal performance. While Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the predictability of the Steelers defense, Dave and Dave reminded listeners that it is on the players to perform and fulfill their responsibilities, something that safety Ryan Clark also asserted in an interview earlier this week. As Bryan pointed out, the defensive schemes, as designed by Dick LeBeau, have been successful, as they have resulted in two Super Bowl championships; however, it is on the players on the defensive side of the football to be disruptive and to get pressure on the quarterback to force mistakes, and ultimately turnovers.
While Bryan is absolutely correct in his assessment, another question that must be considered is whether or not the players on the defensive side of the ball have what it takes to get pressure and to make splash plays.
Players like Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons at one time made momentum-swinging plays, yet they have been relatively quiet, even dating back to last season. And just how much confidence should there be in players like Chris Carter, Jason Worilds, and Keenan Lewis, as their play has been average at best in the first three games. To compound matters, players that were glorified in the offseason, Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward, have seen very little of the playing field.
A key concept that I keep bringing up in my articles here on the Depot is “emergence,” and how it is essential for teams to stay competitive. The Steelers have enjoyed several years, dating back to the Bill Cowher era, of players emerging and stepping up to be leaders on defense (think Ike Taylor, Aaron Smith, James Harrison). Unfortunately, there has not been a player since LaMarr Woodley who has elevated his play and emerged as a defensive playmaker for the Steelers, and this is a possible reason for the drop in the play of the defense, specifically in the turnover department over the past two seasons.
It is still too early to hit the panic button as this Steelers team has the pieces, especially on offense, to make a championship run. All along, I have stated that this is a team that will build steam as the season wears on, and I still believe that. However, more than ever, one of the defensive players lurking in depths of anonymity needs to take that giant step into realm of black and gold stardom.
The best case scenario? Allen, Carter, Worilds, or a dark horse like Stevenson Sylvester somehow works himself into the equation and becomes a centerpiece of a playmaking defense.
The worst case scenario? What we have seen in three games is the reality, and our next play maker is currently on the field on Saturdays. If this is the case, we will truly see if Ben Roethlisberger can carry this team to a title.
This much is true: adversity reveals character.
Well, the adversity has arrived.
Time to see what this defense is really made of.