Defense Needed During Stretch-Run for the Steelers
While I am happy that the Steelers emerged victorious from Thursday Night’s game against the rival Browns, I’m saddened that the victory came with a hefty price. QB Ben Roethlisberger and C Maurkice Pouncey both suffered Grade 3 (the most serious) high-ankle sprains during the game. While Roethlisberger returned to the game, the negative effects of his injury were quite evident throughout the night. Ben was limping around, and now is forced to wear a walking boot for an extended period of time. Pouncey, didn’t even come back into the game, and it certainly appears that he will miss some time.
To make matters worse, the stakes are the highest that they’ve been all season long for the Steelers. Pittsburgh needs to win out in their final three games (all do-able: @S.F., St. Louis, @Cleveland) just to stay in the hunt for another A.F.C. North title and needs one more win to clinch a Playoff spot. That being said, the injuries to the Offense’s most important players could have some terrible ramifications for the Steelers down the stretch. Therefore, the Steelers are in need of a tremendous boost from their Defense as they gear-up for January football. So for today’s article I thought that I would discuss exactly how much the Defense is needed at this moment, how I think they will do over the course of the coming weeks, and what they need to do to succeed after the Offense has received a tremendous blow.
The Defense Has Stepped Up Before:
When Roethlisberger was hit with a ridiculous 4-game suspension to start the 2010 season, many in the media were already throwing dirt on the Steelers’ 2010 season “graves.” (I say ridiculous because it rightfully should have been 1-2 games. The suspension itself was totally warranted not the length.)
Apparently many in the media didn’t think that Pittsburgh could survive the loss of their 2x Super Bowl winning QB for a Quarter of the season. Well they didn’t count on one very important group of people that saw Ben’s suspension as an ultimate test of their resolve and mettle. That’s right folks, I’m talking about the Steelers’ Defense.
Riding their Defense and the ground game with Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers won their first 3 games. Not only did the Steelers win each of these games, they gave up a grand total of 33 points combined in all of them! After their heartbreaking loss to Baltimore the following week, Pittsburgh’s Defense and their stellar play had allowed the Steelers to go 3-1 and gave up a meager 50 points during Ben’s absence.
Got Loads of Fuel and Know What To Do:
Called “old, slow, ineffective, etc.” by some rotund and moronic members of the media to start the 2011 season, cough*Warren Sapp*cough, the onus is now on the Defense to kick some tail and dominate opponents in the event the Offense loses its two most important players. The Defense is ranked in the Top 10 in every major category (3rd in Total, 1st Pass, 7th Rush Yards Per Game) and they will be needed more than ever to step their games’ up now.
I mean, I’m sure that the Defense knows how important they are. Take for instance what happened last night. Outside of Cleveland’s opening drive, the Defense shut the Browns out and protected a 4 point lead the entire game. A game I must add where the Offense sputtered and Roethlisberger missed significant time. Against their final 3 opponents of the regular season and against their opponents in the Playoffs as well, the Steelers need “all hands on deck” on the Defensive side of the ball to ensure their Offense can stay in the game.
What Must Happen:
To ensure their success, everybody on the Defensive side of the ball must turn in some outstanding performances if Ben and Pouncey miss some time. This is a layout what must happen:
The Defensive Line must come up big against Frank Gore and Steven Jackson in the next couple of weeks. Big Snack, The Beard, Ziggy, Heyward, and McLendon need to snuff out any and all hope for these teams’ ground games. Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy will be helpless if their running games are taken away. Zero running game = zero success for these teams. And with no running game and passing attacks that are mediocre, the Steelers can pin their ears back and attack the QB.
The Linebackers must also regroup and “win the day” for the Steelers’ Defense. Deebo (8.0 Sacks) and Worilds (3.0 Sacks) have to relentlessly pressure the oppositions’ QB’s while Woodley (9.0 Sacks) needs to get back from injury to join the “Sack Parade.” Timmons, Farrior, and Foote need to not only be tackling machines, but they must under no circumstances not allow the oppositions’ TE’s and Backs to run free all over the field in the short and middle passing game. Too many times this season has this Defense been beaten like that, and now is the time to “nut-up.”
Finally, the much maligned but still improving Defensive Backfield has to completely shut down the aerial assaults that their opponents will inevitably have to go to for the rest of the season. Taylor, Gay, Lewis, and Allen must take away any and all success and be vigilant that they will be picked on and seen as the weak-links in the Defense. Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, just needs to stay healthy and do what he does best: give the impression that he is everywhere on the field and wreaking havoc. And Clark needs to keep the helmet-to-helmet hits at a minimum, support the run-game, and give solid pass coverage to bring success to the Secondary now.
Turnovers = Recipe for Success:
The Defense will also have to keep their “Turnover Parade” up to help their Offense as well. After recording only 2 INT’s through 9 games in 2011, the Defense has come back with a vengeance to snag 8 in the last 4 alone. The Steelers have gotten a total of 9 turnovers in their last 4 games after getting only 4 to start the season.
I cannot stress enough how important creating turnovers is at this juncture. The more chances the Steelers’ Offense has the ball, the more chances they have to put points up on the board. In the event Ben and/or Pouncey are lost for a game or two, the Offense will need any and all extra help to score. Furthermore, it wouldn’t hurt if the Defense scored a time or two as well.
My Take and Final Conclusion:
While the beginning of the season was a tad rocky for this unit, I feel that at this point in the season the Defense is finally hitting its stride. In my opinion, it’s not a moment too soon with the injuries on Offense piling up. This Defense still has the ability to take games into their own hands. And with the Steelers’ other potent members of their Offense still intact, Batch or whoever is taking the snaps from Legursky (if both B and Pouncey are injured), can simply run the Offense and make enough plays to win the day.
As worried as some of you may be right now, I’m not panicking just yet. This Defense proved only a season ago that they have a hunger and a desire to dominate their opponents when the deck is stacked against them. Moreover, this is a nice mix of young and old (bit more on the old side) on a Defense that is starting to finally hit its stride in 2011.
So come on Defense, show us in Steeler Nation just how awesome we think you are. A 3-0 record in the final 3 games, plus a Ravens loss as well wins the Division. Go out and win it for all of us, but most of all win it for you!
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