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Steelers' pass defense not as sharp

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Posted Oct. 12, 2012 @ 5:53 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

If you like silver linings, then the Steelers’ 2-3 start isn't lacking in postives. Two of their losses were by a mere field goal on the road. There's still a lot of talent on the roster. And QB Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps the club’s most important player, has played at a Pro Bowl level through five games.

In short, there’s no real reason to count out Pittsburgh yet. However, there’s no doubting that the Steelers’ margin for error has shrunk. All three of their losses are against conference opponents, which is one of the primary tiebreakers for a wild-card spot.

One reason the Steelers are on shaky ground after five games: they aren’t as strong against the pass as they were a season ago. Opponents are completing 60.9 percent of their passes against the Steelers, compared to 54.5 percent in 2011, when the club allowed fewer passing yards than any other club. In all three of the Steelers’ losses, the pass defense has struggled to get the necessary stops down the stretch. Of particular note: the Titans, in their Week Six win at Tennessee, repeatedly went after CB Ike Taylor, who did not have one of his better games, committing multiple penalties. Moreover, the secondary hasn’t been at full strength at safety for much of the season, with the tandem of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu combining to start only one out of five games. Polamalu, who has been bothered by a calf injury for the bulk of the campaign, missed the loss at Tennessee.

If you’re inclined to look on the bright side, you will note that the Steelers are sixth in passing yards allowed per game and eighth in yards per pass surrendered — both above-average marks. Polamalu’s expected return will help the secondary, too. So, it isn’t all gloomy for the Steelers’ pass defense, though it surely could be better. 

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