Armchair quarterbacking in the NFL is the easiest job in the world. It let\’s all of us present the obvious as if it is earth shattering news and foresight. Such is the case with the 2009 Steelers. The incredible high of winning our 6th Super Bowl after an improbable playoff run, made it easy to look away from all of the cracks in our armor and ugly warts on our face. It happens.
What happened this season can not be a total surprise, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It all started with the Super Bowl second half meltdown against a pass happy Arizona Cardinals team. The Cardinals effectively torched the Steelers defense in the second half even with a healthy Troy Polamalu on the field. It gave teams a whole offseason to look at ways to expose the Steelers defense. The Steelers did not help things by returning 9 of 11 starters on defense as they tried to go younger with William Gay replacing free agent Bryant McFadden and Lawrence Timmons replacing the aging Larry Foote. Gay has played beneath the line this season and coupled with the injuries to Polamalu and Aaron Smith, it was a recipe for what unfolded. 8 of the defensive players on defense where 30 years or older starting the season. In the NFL, 30 is not the new 20. There are exceptions, but not many.
The Steelers did address the defensive youth movement in the draft by drafting two corners and two defensive lineman. Only their 1st round pick, Ziggy Hood, contributed much this season and very little early on. The lack of depth, especially at the safety position, really made things even worse. Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter have seen their better days. Carter filling the shoes of Polamalu at strong safety was a disaster waiting to happen. Carter is much better as a free safety in my opinion. Ike Taylor had receivers stand up and face him, he was one of the highest targeted corners in the NFL in the 2009. Taylor will be 30 come May, he is playing like he is 40.
Although the Steelers smoke and mirrored their way to 6-2, the 6 wins were all nail biters. The 4th quarter defensive let downs along with poor special teams play became something we grew to expect, we just knew it could be fixed next week. Next week came though and still no fixes were made. Then came the bye week.
Ah, the glorious bye week. Plenty of time to fix the defense and special teams plus our beloved Polamalu was back. No 4th quarter defensive collapse and no special teams touchdowns, everything was fixed, so we thought. The rematch with the Bengals showed us that indeed everything was not right. It showed us exactly what we were. An average football team. The Bengals game seemed to show us that the one week patch we put on for the Broncos game was see-through. The following 4 games and the cracks that were exposed in the Super Bowl were pried wide open.
Mike Tomlin likes to say we need to get back in the lab, but what we really need is a trip the ironsmith. We need to buff off the old rusted metal and get a fresh coat of steel back on the defensive armor. The Steel Curtain will rise once again!