Much has been said in recent years of the transgression or downward spiral of the Steelers “once dominant” defense. The defenses that took the field in Super Bowls XL, XLIII and XLV put up a stone fortress shutting down opposing running lanes, and abused quarterbacks all game long. Since then, it has resembled a shell of itself, caused by a combination of free agency and the still undefeated Father Time.
Now armed with an offense considered one of, if not, the best in the league, the defense is often the butt of the jokes of analysts, calling it the unquestioned Achilles’ Heel of the team. However, for members of that defense, there exists a massive boulder-sized chip on their shoulders, as there should be.
“We are NFL players,” Pro Bowler Lawrence Timmons said, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You have the best players in the world. The athletes aren’t the question. It is if we can play together. Potential doesn’t mean anything if you don’t work toward it.”
In four of the past five drafts, the team’s first round pick has been used on a defender. However, there has been much turnover from not only the defensive unit that took the field in 2014, but also by it’s coach, Dick LeBeau, who now is employed by the Titans. Besides that, iconic safety Troy Polamalu hung up his cleats, along with starting outside linebacker, Jason Worilds. The team also bid farewell to fan favorites Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor. The team has added infusions of talent though, in the form of freakishly-talented linebackers, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, of the 2014 and 2015 drafts, respectively. The team is still waiting on it’s return of investment in 2013 first rounder, Jarvis Jones, whose career has gotten off to a slow start due to rookie pains and an injury-filled 2014.
From a pedigree standpoint, the Steelers are the only team in the league that boast four first rounders at linebacker. So, as Timmons said, talent isn’t the issue, it’s correlating that talent onto the field and meshing as a unit. Many pundits will point at the back end of the defense, where the team really added no immediate help other than a few rookies, and are counting on an inexperienced safety to fill the canyon-sized shoes of Polamalu. The outsiders comments aren’t phasing the team though.
“At the end of the day, we are just out here working and don’t care what anybody says,” Jones said, according to Kaboly. “We are putting the work in and it’s going to show when the season comes. All the talk going on outside our facility really doesn’t bother us.”
In seasons past, the team went on their Super Bowl runs when they were wrote off entering the season. The headlines instead were wrote about the Patriots’ dynasty, Brett Favre’s retirement saga or Peyton Manning’s touchdown records, while the Steelers went about their business and flew under the radar. So while the preseason praise is heaped upon the offensive side of the ball and it’s lineup of All-Pros, and whether this record or that record will fall, the defense will carry that monkey on it’s back into each and every game, until they can make the predecessors of their past great defenses proud. “I believe in my teammates, that’s what I believe in,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said, according to Kaboly. “I don’t believe in what anybody else says.”