The Hangover

Was Peyton Manning's near-perfect night a sign that the Steelers defense is finally too old?


 

Woof. You know that snack-binge haze that starts to waft over your hangout spot about six hours and 64 Ford commercials into your Sunday Funday? Are you familiar with the funk of which I speak?

That moment when you’ve done so much Fantasy Football arithmetic and ate so many Blue Corn Chips and sat gravity-bong-level enraptured in a blear of five-yard outs for so long that you turn to talk to your buddy/spouse and they’ve turned into Dennis Leary and they’re browbeating you for not being able to pull a palette of felled redwood trees up the sheer cliff face of a smoldering hellscape with your pathetic non-Hemi-powered truck?


Yeah. That familiar moment of exhaustion happened at about 6:49 p.m. on Sunday. And then the Steelers played. As tired as we all were by then, no one looked more lethargic or disinterested than the Steelers’ defense. Blame it on the Mile High altitude or the absence of Ryan Clark and James Harrison (who was being so completely and monstrously and singularly himself on the sidelines, leering at Peyton Manning like he wanted to cast him in a really tragic reinterpretation of a Busta Rhymes video). Blame it on Ike Taylor or another one of your favorite talk radio jazz standards. But there was something decidedly different about the black-and-gold on Sunday night.

Facing a damaged quarterback who literally (according to the NBC announcers) begged his doctors not to let him return to professional football, a man who had not played a meaningful game in a year-and-a-half, and whose Kryptonite is press coverage and pressure, the Steelers defense backpedaled for 60 minutes. In Manning’s 28 passing plays, he was knocked down just three times.

When the Steelers did blitz, they did a terrible job of subterfuge. With a 13-7 lead in the third quarter, defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau went to the well one too many times, dialing up the same play for the third time in the game. Troy Polamalu cheated close to the line behind a blitzing Lawrence Timmons, leaving Ike Taylor alone on an island against his Lord and Savior, Demaryius Thomas. The island imploded in on itself and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Manning spied the ruse, audibled into a play action that Timmons and Polamalu believed in with every fiber of their bodies, and casually dumped the ball off to Thomas. Taylor gave his blocker a cuddle and Thomas scampered off unabated — a perfect episode recap of last season’s depressing finale to get fans all caught up for this season.

Outside of Larry Foote, who had seven tackles, a forced fumble and a sack, no one on the Steelers defense made an impression on the game. Well, except for Polamalu, who bizarrely kept faux-blitzing and sprinting back and forth to the line of scrimmage as if controlled by a child who does not take "Madden" nearly as seriously as you do (Mom, the meatloaf!)

All of this begs a really cliche question: Is this team old? Finally old?

After the Steelers lost their 2011 season opener to the Baltimore Ravens in rather embarrassing fashion, Warren Sapp, the NFL Network analyst and real-life YouTube Comment Weevil, declared that the black-and-gold’s vaunted defense was “old and slow.”

It was over, Sapp said. 


But rumors of that particular defense’s demise turned out to be premature, as they finished the season No. 1 in the NFL in both yards and points allowed. Everyone, myself included, branded Sapp a reactionary numbnut. Which he is, of course.

And yet maybe Sapp really was ahead of the curve. Last season, the Steelers managed only 11 interceptions (24th in NFL) and 35 sacks (17th). The dynamism that fueled the double Super Bowl era seemed to be waning, replaced by a conservative and efficient defense, but one that was ultimately reckoned by an incapable Tim Tebow in the playoffs.

Call it what you want — Blitzburgh, the Steel Curtain — that aura of intimidation seems to have faded slightly since 2010. It’s striking that the two young stars who are supposed to carry on the franchise's long tradition of buccaneering, domineering linebacking into a new era, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, have been conspicuously toothless in recent months. Woodley began his career as a force of nature but was marred by injuries last season and Timmons, for all his talent, always seems to be outside the frame of the television (his solo tackles decreased from 96 in 2010 to 68 in 2011).

Timmons and Woodley combined for just six tackles on Sunday. While most Steelers fans will be concerned with what they did see on Sunday (Taylor being victimized once again, the dumbfounding amount of running plays out of the Shotgun and the sudden irrelevance of Casey Hampton), the real cause for concern might be what they didn’t see. 

When Larry Foote is the most dynamic player on your television in a primetime game, something is certainly fishy. If the Steelers are to contend this season, someone from the younger generation of replacements needs make the leap, and fast. 

Inevitably, the coordinators will shoulder most of the indignation and blogosphere spittle this week, but maybe it’s not the landlord that’s the problem here. Maybe it’s the foundation.

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 in April

Pittsburgh's Top 10 in April

The 10 best things to do in April in Pittsburgh.
20 Great Biking & Hiking Trails in Western Pennsylvania

20 Great Biking & Hiking Trails in Western Pennsylvania

Each trail has been lovingly constructed and maintained, using old infrastructure to reconnect disparate communities.
A Superior Strategy? Kevin Sousa's Big Bet on Braddock

A Superior Strategy? Kevin Sousa's Big Bet on Braddock

Pittsburgh chef Kevin Sousa will draw on a fierce work ethic, community goodwill and faith in his own vision for Superior Motors, the progressive American spot he plans to open this year.
Getting Better Over Time: PNC Park at 15

Getting Better Over Time: PNC Park at 15

Adoration for PNC Park is near-universal. But would the park be the cherished baseball palace it is today if a few early proposals instead had become reality?
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Everything That's Awesome About Pittsburgh Today
Just Released: Trailer for Jake Gyllenhaal's New Movie Shot in Pittsburgh

Just Released: Trailer for Jake Gyllenhaal's New Movie Shot in Pittsburgh

The boxing drama "Southpaw" is set to arrive in theaters in late July.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
19 Ways Pittsburgh Earned the “Quirky” Label

19 Ways Pittsburgh Earned the “Quirky” Label

Stand proud, Pittsburgh: Our brand of quirky is a good thing — positive, uplifting, fun, colorful, imaginative.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Culinary Excellence: 13 Renowned Chefs Serve Once-in-a-Lifetime Meal in Pittsburgh

Culinary Excellence: 13 Renowned Chefs Serve Once-in-a-Lifetime Meal in Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino assembled locally and nationally recognized chefs for Wednesday's James Beard Foundation dinner.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
10 Best Hand Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed (and They All Cost Less Than $20)

10 Best Hand Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed (and They All Cost Less Than $20)

You don’t have to be a handyman to be handy with those spring projects, if you have the right equipment.

Comments


Bar Exam: bellfarm Kitchen | Bar

Bar Exam: bellfarm Kitchen | Bar

The Hyatt Regency Pittsburgh International Airport's new bar & restaurant wants to be more than just a hotel joint.

Comments


10 Reasons Why You Should Attend This Weekend's Farm to Table Pittsburgh Conference

10 Reasons Why You Should Attend This Weekend's Farm to Table Pittsburgh Conference

Get the lowdown on one of the best food events of the season.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Spring Fling

Spring Fling

Add some warmth to your table with these nature-inspired plates and bowls from artist Lisa Neimeth.

Comments


This week's buzz from the PM editors
George Takei Appears at Pittsburgh's First Humanities Festival

George Takei Appears at Pittsburgh's First Humanities Festival

On Sunday, find out why the Daily Dot in 2012 declared Takei the most influential person on Facebook.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Cultures Collide: Multi-Traditional Weddings

Cultures Collide: Multi-Traditional Weddings

When the bride and groom hail from different backgrounds, a planning balancing act ensues. Here are two weddings that incorporate Hindu culture with style.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Design Tip: Use Hardware to Revamp Dressers & Cabinets

Design Tip: Use Hardware to Revamp Dressers & Cabinets

Tailor knobs and pulls to each room in your home.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Three Pittsburgh Heavyweights to Team Up on Data Mining

Three Pittsburgh Heavyweights to Team Up on Data Mining

With backing from UPMC, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh on Monday announced a three-way collaboration to use the digital data to revolutionize health care.

Comments


Thinking outside the box (score)
Death to the NFL Salary Cap

Death to the NFL Salary Cap

It doesn’t provide parity or competitive balance. The salary cap just steals millions from players who, rightfully, want to retire before hits to the head could ruin their life.

Comments


Award-winning sports commentary by Sean Conboy
R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

R.I.P. Corporate Penguins, 2009-2014

Fire Bylsma? Fire Shero? The Penguins' problems run deeper.

Comments

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags