Steelers Pass 'D' Has a Big-Play Problem
In 16 regular-season games, Pittsburgh allowed only three plays of 40 yards or more. But with Troy Polamalu out for much of this season, the Steelers are no longer a team that forces opponents to move downfield in small chunks. In the past two weeks, they've given up four 40-yard passes. Overall, they have already given up more 20-plus-yard plays (33 compared to 27 in 2008) and 40-plus-yard plays (five compared to three) than they did last year in the run to the Super Bowl.
And those big plays have proven to be killers in the past two weeks. Last week, Pittsburgh gave up pases of 47 and 61 yards to Chris Chambers -- the first enabled the Chiefs to tie the game, while the second enabled Kansas City to win in overtime.
Against Baltimore this week, Pittsburgh gave up a 54-yarder to Mark Clayton in the first half that set up Baltimore's first touchdown, and a 44-yard catch and run to Ray Rice on fourth-and-5 with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. If Pittsburgh makes the stop there, the game's over. But the defense that once was the perfect security blanket for a fourth-quarter lead is showing that without Polamalu, they're in trouble.
Dennis Dixon threw the crucial interception in overtime, but blame this loss on the defense. With a third-string quarterback playing against the Ravens defense, Pittsburgh led by three points with less than five minutes to go. At that point, it's all up to the defense. But they couldn't put the Ravens away, just like they couldn't put the Chiefs away.
Pittsburgh is 3-0 this season when Polamalu plays the entire game and 3-5 when he doesn't. If Polamalu can get healthy, Pittsburgh still has a chance, but if Polamalu is out, this Steelers defense seems pretty ordinary.