Make no mistake about it, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense isn't the dominating unit it was last year. The yards, particularly in the fourth quarter, are coming just a little bit easier for the opponents this season.
But another sign of a good unit is being able to make a play when needed.
The Steelers had struggled with that in their two losses, failing to hold fourth-quarter leads against both Chicago and Cincinnati.
Against Detroit Sunday, it looked as if that might happen again when the Lions cut Pittsburgh's lead to 28-20 with 4:57 remaining.
After forcing the Steelers to punt, the Lions got the football back at their own 29-yard line and proceeded to move to the Pittsburgh 21 with 1:54 left.
But Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau decided he had seen enough and he wasn't going down without a fight. He called for cornerback blitzes from William Gay on back-to-back plays, resulting in a pair of sacks of Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Then, on third down, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons came hard on a blitz and sacked Culpepper again, pushing the Lions all the way back to the Pittsburgh 45.
There would be no fourth-quarter comeback in this one.
"You've got to give Coach LeBeau credit. He dissected that offense and called just the right blitz," said Gay, who got the sack on the second blitz and shared one with linebacker LaMarr Woodley on the first.
The three consecutive sacks helped mask what was an otherwise lackluster performance by the Steelers' defense against a team that lost wide receiver Calvin Johnson – the Lions' best playmaker – in the first half to a knee injury.
Without Johnson, the Lions should have been no match for the Steelers.
Yet there they were, late in the game, hanging in with the defending Super Bowl champions.
Part of the reason for that was yet another interception returned for a touchdown against the Steelers. Those things happen from time to time, though it has occurred in back-to-back weeks for Ben Roethlisberger.
But it still doesn't explain allowing 335 yards to the Lions, a team that failed to win a game last year and one with only a single victory this season. And 205 of those yards came in the second half, when the Lions also converted eight of 11 third downs
"We're still searching for the Steelers," admitted linebacker James Farrior. "We still think we left some plays out there."
Maybe getting safety Troy Polamalu back Sunday against Cleveland will be all this defense needs.
Yes, the defense only allowed 13 points Sunday, but the 55 points the Steelers have allowed in the fourth quarter through five games is alarming. They gave up only 75 points in the final quarter all of last year.
© After a slow start, James Harrison is turning into James Harrison again.
He had three sacks Sunday and was all over the field, punishing people. That's the nastiness this team needs to feed off of.
© Maybe the sacks that linebacker LaMarr Woodley had late in the game will get him going as well.
© It seemed like it had to be a mistake when I first saw it, but Cleveland won a game in which its quarterback completed two of 17 passes.
If the Steelers give up a couple of late touchdown drives to the Browns next week, we'll know something is really up.
© Limas Sweed dropped the only pass thrown his way Sunday, a quick slant on third down during the Steelers' opening possession, and wasn't thrown to again.
There are just too many good pass catchers on this team for Sweed to continue to keep getting opportunities.
Then again, you can't give up on a second-round pick this quickly, can you?
© It seemed to me that the Steelers, particularly on defense, were too intent on playing footsies with Larry Foote than they were in defending the Lions. But maybe that's just me.
© Late in the game, the Lions' mascot – I don't even want to know what his name is – got the fans riled up by stomping on a Terrible Towel and sticking it in his mouth.
On the next play, Gay and Woodley sacked Culpepper. Gay got him again after that before Timmons got him a third time.
The ghost of Myron Cope must have aided them.
© Rashard Mendenhall's ability to catch passes out of the backfield are a better fit for this offense and what this team is built to do.
The most amazing thing about that is that the Bengals dominated the Ravens Sunday, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.
In fact, the Ravens are staring at their third consecutive loss next week with a game at Minnesota before their bye. They then host surprising Denver and travel to Cincinnati for a rematch. The Ravens also have their two games with the Steelers and a games against the Colts, Bears and Packers remaining.
Is it crazy to think the Bengals might be the Steelers' biggest threat to win the AFC North?
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.