Age, injuries catching up with once potent Steelers | Football | CBC Sports

NFLAge, injuries catching up with once potent Steelers

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 | 10:12 AM

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Injuries have robbed Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu of his Pro Bowl status. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press) Injuries have robbed Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu of his Pro Bowl status. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

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Don't be fooled by the certain defensive statistics, all is not well with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who continue to battle age and injuries.
It's just not the same as it used to be in Pittsburgh.

The once revered Steelers' defence had the innate ability to change the momentum in any given game with one smashing hit. They'd blitz with unrelenting pressure and uncanny success. Force turnovers, create chances and invoke fear in opposing quarterbacks - and this was as recently as the last few seasons.

This year it's been a different story. Those big plays haven't been coming with regularity these days. Injuries aside, this defensive group is in need of a major facelift.

At first glance, nothing seems to have gone awry. The team ranks No. 1 in total yards per game allowed and first in passing yards against.

But don't be fooled. All is not well in Steelerland.

They're tied for 21st in forced fumbles with a paltry nine and rank in the bottom five in total tackles this year.

Their biggest Achilles' heel has been all season is the inability to create turnovers. The Black & Gold are tied for 28th in the NFL in interceptions with six, and tied for 24th in sacks (22.0). 

Imagine that: A Dick LeBeau defence that's struggling to pressure and get to the quarterback.

He's still the same LeBeau, who's credited with inventing the zone blitz - now a league-wide staple in many defences. He's the same defensive co-ordinator who loves to push the blitz button with regularity, and was named Co-ordinator of the Year by Sporting News in 2008.

His schemes haven't changed much. What's different is the personnel he's working with and their inability to stay healthy.

Age, injuries catch up with defence

Pick the Steelers' defence apart player-by-player, position-by-position, and you'll find two common themes: Age and injuries.

As gifted an athlete as perennial Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu is, wear and tear has caught up with the former USC Trojans standout. The 31-year-old safety, who was named Associated Press Defensive player of the Year just two seasons ago, isn't the same player he once was.

He's suffered various injuries throughout his career, in part due to his hard-nosed playing style.

Some may say injuries are just part of the game and not his fault. But I would argue that staying healthy is in large part a skill, and unfortunately for Pittsburgh fans, it's one of the few skill sets Polamalu doesn't possess. Going forward nagging injuries will continue to take their toll, too (he's only suited up for two games so far this year).

There are reasons why some players are dubbed "injury-prone," while others manage to stay away from the infirmary.

Look across the team's secondary and you'll find veteran safety Ryan Clark. Known as one of the better tacklers in the NFL, he's been unable to avoid the concussion bug - even having to wear a special helmet to play - and at age 33 with 11 years of NFL service under his belt, don't expect too much prime production out of him for much longer.

Then take a look at the Steelers' linebacking unit, and the alarm bells start ringing again. Thirty-four-year-old James Harrison has only suited up for eight games this year and has registered three sacks - well off his pace from last season's injury-plagued campaign of nine in 11 games.

Yet another player getting past his prime.

Linebacker Larry Foote is the team's top tackler with 78 combined stops (only 34th in the league), and at age 32 he's not exactly a spry rookie, either.

Remember when LaMarr Woodley could pretty much coast past offensive linemen and punish opposing pivots? Well, that was in 2009 when he amassed 13.5 sacks in 16 games. The injury ward came calling for him in 2011 when he was only able to play in 10 games. He's the younger statesman in Steelerville - which is not necessarily a good thing.

So what's the solution?

A defensive rebuild. It's the only way LeBeau will be able to implement his schematic wizardry to the utmost effectiveness.

And they'll have to start by parting with some of their big-name players

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