After the Steelers allowed 197 yards rushing in back-to-back games, it’s being asked if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is past his prime.
Since LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh in 2004, the Steelers have ranked 1st, 4th, 9th, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd, 1st and, again, 1st in the NFL in total defense.
In that same period, the Steelers also went to four AFC Championships, three Super Bowls and won a pair of championships.
Just because Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor broke off a 93-yard run and New England quarterback Tom Brady torched the defense for 610 yards doesn’t mean LeBeau can’t coach.
It means the players aren’t getting things done.
The Steelers have three new starters in their front seven – nose tackle Steve McLendon, Vince Williams at inside linebacker and the Jason Worilds/Jarvis Jones combo at outside linebacker. Those three are replacing Casey Hampton, Larry Foote and James Harrison, respectively.
One of those changes could be covered up. Together, it’s a massive amount of turnover, not only in level of play, but experience.
When the Steelers aren’t crushing the run – they’ve fallen to 31st in run defense – it opens up the passing game for the opponent.
Safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are biting on every run fake opponents make, in order to help the front seven. That’s hurting the defense in the passing game.
McLendon, who has pleyed well in spots, isn’t suddenly going to morph into Hampton. Williams isn’t going to begin playing with the savvy of Foote. Worilds and Jones aren’t miraculously going to bring the ferocity of Harrison.
Those are issues the Steelers can’t fix until the offseason. Once opponents see you can’t stop the run, they’re not going to let up. That’s bad news against the Buffalo Bills today. With Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Buffalo runs the ball as well as any team. The Bills average 145.3 yards rushing per game.
The Steelers are 3-point favorites and can win it. Buffalo, despite a ferocious pass rush, has allowed an amazing 20 touchdown passes.
The feeling here is the Bills will control this game with their rushing attack and squeak out a win.
Take Buffalo, 21-20
Oakland (plus 7½) at New York Giants
The Raiders were trounced at home by the Eagles last week.
Take the Giants, 24-16
Dallas (plus 7) at New Orleans
The Dallas defense is banged up. Not good against Drew Brees and company.
Take New Orleans, 34-20
Philadelphia (plus 2½) at Green Bay
The Packers could be dead in the water without Aaron Rodgers.
Take Philadelphia, 24-20
St. Louis (plus 10) at Indianapolis
Rams reeling from loss of quarterback Sam Bradford. And they weren’t very good to begin with.
Take Indianapolis, 31-13
Seattle (minus 6½) at Atlanta
The Falcons are a bigger disappointment than the Steelers.
Take Atlanta to cover in a 24-21 loss
Cincinnati (minus 1½) at Baltimore
The Steelers will finish with a better record than the Ravens.
Take Cincinnati, 24-17
Detroit (minus 2½) at Chicago
Lions can take control of NFC North with a win.
Take Detroit, 24-19
Carolina (plus 6) at San Francisco
Carolina might be the hottest team in the league.
Take Carolina to cover in a 23-20 loss
Denver (minus 7) at San Diego
Broncos had a couple of weeks to get ready for this one.
Take Denver, 45-24
Houston (plus 2½) at Arizona
Houston, like Atlanta, is high on the disappointment list.
Take Arizona, 27-20
Miami (minus 2½) at Tampa Bay
Plenty of turmoil in Miami. A game against lowly Bucs might be a nice distraction.
Take Miami, 24-10
Jacksonville (plus 13) at Tennessee
Jaguars could be on their way to an 0-16 season.
Take Tennessee, 28-13
Last Week: 5-7 ATS; 8-4 Straight up.
Overall: 51-70-4 ATS; 78-47 Straight up.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at email@example.com.