Is Defense in Line for Another Fade?

Mark Kaboly looked over how the rest of the 6-2 starts turned out for the Steelers under Mike Tomlin. So naturally he's worried about the defense.

It's the midway point of the season and wouldn't you know, the Steelers are 6-2 just like last year and the year before that and the year before that.

And what have we learned over the three previous 6-2 starts under the direction of Mike Tomlin?

We've learned that you really can't forecast what's going to transpire over the final eight games based on what happened over the first eight.

Easily 6-2 can turn into a 9-7 season like it did last year. Or it can turn into 6-2 finish and a Super Bowl run/championship like it did two years ago.

Who knows how the second half of the season will pan out this year?

Well, other than the defense playing significantly worse than it did in the first half of the season.

Looking back now, the reason why Tomlin is 24-8 in the first eight games of seasons and 13-11 in the final eight can be traced to one thing: a dip in play on the defensive side of the ball.

Call me a fool, but it is slowly heading down that path for the fifth consecutive year under the direction of Tomlin/Dick LeBeau.

For two consecutive weeks, in the fourth quarter, the defense has faltered. It cost them a win in New Orleans and almost cost them an embarrassing and what would've been disastrous loss last week against Cincinnati.

Now, a dip in play when it comes to the Steelers' defense can be labeled relative considering where the unit is overall at the midway point compared to other organizations, but a dip is a dip is a dip.

And the Steelers rely on their defense much more than any other contender out there so a dip in play can be significant.

History says these past two games are just a precursor of what's to come.

* In 2007, the Steelers allowed 28 yards more rushing, 30 more yards passing and 9 more points per game while collecting 14 less sacks over the final eight games compared to the first eight.

* In 2008, the passing yards per game improved in the second half of the year and so did the points allowed per game, but that was it. The defense permitted 20 more yards rushing per game and collected 13 less sacks in the second half, mind you, with arguably the best defense the NFL ever saw.

* In 2009, the sacks were the same in both halves of the season, but they allowed 18 more rushing yards per game, 2 more passing yards and 6 more points per game over the final eight in which the fourth-quarter meltdowns occurred against some pretty sub-par teams.

Sure it looks minimal when you put it out there in black and white, but if those numbers are so minimal then how do you explain the 13-11 second-half record during that span compared to the 18-6 first half?

The only rationale reason for why the defense tends to slump as the season advances is the age of the players. It might be a worn-out and played-out theory, but there has to be something to it.

The Steelers have the distinction of having the oldest defense in the NFL at a little more than 30-years-old per man.

Age doesn't mean that they are any less of players, but it could be a factor in the wearing-down process as the season unfolds, and even as games unfold.

Look at who is playing the best for the unit: Lawrence Timmons. He, of course, is one of the youngest members of the defense.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but I think not.

The defense is nowhere near the level at which they played in first two months. Over the last two games they've looked a step slow, and the stats say just that.

LeBeau always makes sure he lets everybody know that the only stat he's worried about when it comes to his defense is the points allowed. Well, the Steelers have allowed 4 fourth-quarter touchdowns over the past two games and almost blew a 20-point lead against the Bengals last week.

It's not like they are scheming different or even they are playing better teams. The only logical reason has to be the age.

The defensive line is old and already breaking down. Aaron Smith is out for most likely the rest of the season and Brett Keisel's hamstring is giving him fits. James Farrior has been better than last year, but still struggles moving laterally to make plays. And (gasp) even near-30 year old Troy Polamalu might be slowing down a step at his age.

Sure, you'd love to dismiss the fourth quarters of the past two games as aberrations, as just a fluke, but that's what we were saying last year at this point, too … and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that.

Yes, the defense can afford to give up a few more yards, a few more points and put a little less pressure on the opposition on a weekly basis and still succeed, but one of these years this second-half slowdown is going to turn into a full-fledged break down.

Is this that year?

It very well could be. And when it breaks down completely, it's not

going to be pretty.


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