The Steelers’ Fine Line Between Pressure and Coverage

The Pittsburgh Steelers missed Ike Taylor today. Don’t believe it? Don’t want to admit it? They did and they did so sorely. Taylor’s absence was like that horrible traffic accident on the freeway. The closer you get to it the more you know you shouldn’t look but you do anyway. It’s in our nature. It’s unavoidable.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was very average today but the throws he had to make he did and they resulted in first downs and touchdowns. He also made a few others that were dropped so you can rag Rivers all you want to but he beat the #1 defense in the league plain and simple.

The Steelers struggled to get any consistent pressure on Rivers and when they couldn’t, it showed. Basically listed as San Diego’s fourth wide receiver, Michael Spurlock looked like the second coming of Jerry Rice by consistently beating his man for first down grabs that allowed the Chargers to continue drives and keep the Steelers’ tiring defense on the field.

Cortez Allen couldn’t cover him and niether could Curtis Brown. It would get so bad in fact for Brown that he was eventually yanked in favor of Josh Victorian.

This is where you get an appreciation of Ike Taylor. The Steelers play their corners off traditionally because they rely so heavily on the pass rush to force quarterbacks to get rid of the ball sooner. The idea is to keep the receiver in front of you, come up and make the tackle limiting the yardage and force a punt. Without Taylor, the Chargers didn’t have to even acknowledge that Keenan Lewis was on the field because they knew who they were going to attack immediately and it wasn’t him.

The question was, could the Chargers depleted line give Rivers the time he needed? That was a resounding ‘yes!’ The Steelers could not put any pressure on Rivers and thus left their young corners on islands with which there was no escape. Time and time again the corners would give too much cushion and give up first downs like they were lollipops at the doctors’ office.

The equation in Dick LeBeau’s defense is simple. If you get pressure and stop the run, you can afford to give up completions in front of the sticks. When you can’t get pressure and you don’t have good cover guys then you might as well call yourself ‘toast.’

LeBeau’s defense hung in as long as it could today but the lack of pressure was a common issue throughout the day and it was going to catch up with them at some point. With three games remaining and  the Steelers needing all three, they must get better pressure or they will suffer the same fate as they did today regardless of the offense’s struggles.

 

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