Steelers' PK, pass defense woes nothing new

Posted Nov. 20, 2010 @ 8:10 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

For the Steelers, it's shades of 2002.

That's the last time the club changed placekickers, with the then-unknown Jeff Reed — who was working on a friend's dairy farm when Pittsburgh asked him to try out — replacing the injured Todd Peterson. Reed connected on 17-of-19 field goals in '02 and would hold down the job for almost eight years. However, he struggled this season, hitting just 15-of-22 field goals, and he was released two days after missing a 26-yarder in a home loss to New England. His departure came after he said he slipped on the playing surface at Heinz Field on the 26-yard attempt and alleged some Steelers fans came to the game to cheer against him. Head coach Mike Tomlin indicated performance drove the move, not anything Reed had done or said away from football. 

In Reed's place, the Steelers will turn to veteran PK Shaun Suisham, who was with the Steelers in training camp in 2005 but has never attempted a regular-season field goal at Heinz Field, where Reed has missed five field goals this season. Of note: Reed has more than twice as many career field-goal attempts as Suisham and has hit a higher percentage of his kicks (81.9, compared to Suisham's 79.1).

Reed's arrival in 2002 solidified a position of concern. Earlier that season, the pass defense was the hot topic in Pittsburgh after faltering in back-to-back losses to New England and Oakland to begin the year. Likewise, worries about the Steelers' pass defense are growing after Patriots QB Tom Brady, who's long had success against Pittsburgh, threw for 350 yards in a 39-26 Pats win in Week 10.

Leading up to Week 11, Tomlin said he would make no changes at cornerback, noting that pass defense is a team effort and that in the case of the New England game, "many of them were underneath throws that aren't directly involving cornerback play."

The Steelers' ability to stop the pass hasn't just suddenly become a concern. Through nine games, the Steelers were allowing opponents to complete 67.5 percent of their throws, compared to 58.2 percent a season ago, and they were allowing 36.8 yards more per game via the air. The Steelers don't give up a lot of big plays in the passing game — they had allowed just 26 pass plays of 20 yards or longer through nine games — but aren't exactly stopping opponents in their tracks, either. 

After that slow start in '02, the Steelers' pass defense rebounded, and Pittsburgh won the AFC North. A similar turnaround could do wonders for this edition of the Steelers, in yet another battle for the division title.