Steelers' pass defense giving ground

Posted Nov. 01, 2010 @ 7:42 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

After a 20-10 loss at New Orleans Sunday night, head coach Mike Tomlin said his team didn't fare as well as hoped in the loud Louisiana Superdome.

"It was a hostile environment for us," Tomlin said. "The fans were into it. We struggled a little bit on possession downs because of it, but that's no excuse. They (the Saints) did a nice job. We knew that this was going to be a tough place to play coming into it. I was hopeful that we would perform better than we did."

The Steelers were 3-of-10 on third downs vs. New Orleans and scored just one touchdown, a 38-yard Rashard Mendenhall run early in the fourth quarter. QB Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times by the Saints' swarming defense, which thrived despite injuries to three of its top cornerbacks.

While the Saints' defense impressed, the Steelers' defense didn't play quite as well, as Saints QB Drew Brees completed 20-of-22 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half. The previous week, Brees had thrown four interceptions vs. Cleveland.

"When you play a team like ours, you can't always go for the deep ball, and they were patient and took what they could get," Steelers FS Ryan Clark said after the game. "I thought Brees and the Saints showed a lot of resolve. Maybe coming off a week like Cleveland when he (Brees) tried to force some things, I think he showed a lot of patience against us tonight."

All told, the Saints racked up 288 net passing yards vs. Pittsburgh, the most the Steelers have surrendered this season. Pittsburgh has allowed at least 228 net passing yards in 6-of-7 games this season.

The PFW spin

Teams have been able to rack up passing yards vs. the Steelers this season. Through Sunday's games, Pittsburgh was allowing the eighth-most net yards per game through the air (243.1 ypg, compared to 215.4 last season).

Last week, Tomlin, when asked if he was satisified with the pass defense, said the following: "We have been up on some people. Some people got one-dimensional. We have been very strong against the run. I'm not overly concerned with stats. When people are behind and they can't run the football, they are going to throw the football on you, and they're probably going to pick up yards.

"The thing that's most exciting is that we don't allow people to score touchdowns. We lead the league in scoring defense; even in the red areas we make people kick field goals. To me, that's a formula for winning defense. I'm less concerned about what stats may potentially tell us. We all know in many instances they lie."

Tomlin had good points about the club's run, red-zone and scoring defense; the Steelers are first vs. the run, first in points allowed per game and third in keeping opponents out of the endzone in the red zone. As long as the Steelers remain strong in these areas, they will win a lot of games. Their pass rush remains formidable, too.

However, opponents have been able to complete 68.0 percent of their passes against the Steelers compared to just 58.2 percent a season ago. Again, it's not as if teams are scoring much on Pittsburgh, but the Saints were able to rack up 17 second-half points and held the ball for 21:03 in the final two quarters. How the Steelers fare against Cincinnati and New England the next two weeks bears watching; the Bengals have a more potent passing game than last season, and Patriots QB Tom Brady has given the Steelers' defense fits in past matchups. 

All things considered, the Steelers' pass defense is not a huge concern. The secondary is deep and experienced, with SS Troy Polamalu an elite talent and CB Ike Taylor having a fine season. But forcing a few more incompletions would be a big help, particulary against top competition.