Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers Pick Up Where They Left Off In Super Bowl XLV; Aging Defense To Blame?

Probably the most surprising result today on the first Sunday of the 2011 NFL season was the Baltimore Ravens thoroughly dominating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 35-7.

The Steelers acted as if they were still in the pre-season, playing what is hopefully their worst game of the year (if not, it's going to be a long winter in Pittsburgh).  Is it just a bad game, or are the Steelers just falling apart?

In Super Bowl XLV in February, the Steelers had three turnovers, and the defense could never seem to stop Aaron Rodgers whenever they needed to.  Today against the Ravens, the game was well out of hand before the Steelers got rolling on offense, and despite the fact that they virtually matched the Ravens for yards and plays run, the game was not even close.

Photo: Joe Giza/Reuters

The big story going around right now is that the Steelers defense looks old.  Last year, wasn't the story that the Ravens looked old on defense?

Let's take a look at the particulars:

  • The Steelers run a standard 3-4. Here are the averages ages of the different position groups:
    • Defensive line - 34
    • Linebackers - 30
    • Defensive Backs - 30
  • That's an average for the Steelers defense of 31.2 years
  • In contrast, the Baltimore Ravens, when they run their 3-4 defense, look like this:
    • Defensive line - 26
    • Linebackers - 30
    • Defensive Backs - 27
  • The average age for the Baltimore Ravens 3-4 defense is 27.9 years
  • The oldest player on the Ravens defense, by four years, is Ray Lewis (36); his primary backup is 25. The Ravens have just two players on their team who are 32 are older 
  • In contrast, the Steelers have five players who are 32 and older, and only three starting players who are in their 20's.
Photo: Larry French/Getty Images
  • The Steelers have drafted for defense in the past few years, but none have become starters yet:
    • Cameron Heyward - 2011 First Round pick - backing up right defensive end, Brett Keisel
    • Curtis Brown - 2011 Third Round pick - the cornerback was inactive for today's game with an injury, but had been showing some promise in the pre-season
    • Cortez Allen - 2011 Fourth Round pick - another cornerback; listed third on depth chart at right cornerback
    • Christopher Carter - 2011 Fifth Round pick - outside linebacker; Woodley's backup
    • Jason Worilds - 2010 Second Round pick - outside linebacker who has yet to break into the starting lineup but had two sacks last year; Harrison's backup
    • Thaddeus Gibson - 2010 Fourth Round pick - outside linebacker; waived last year and picked up by the 49ers
    • Crezdon Butler - 2010 Fifth Round pick - cornerback; no longer on roster
    • Stevenson Sylvester - 2010 Fifth Round pick - outside linebacker; backup to Farrior
    • Doug Worthington - 2010 Seventh Round pick; defensive end; no longer on roster
  • So of the NINE defensive drafts picks the Steelers have done in the past two years:
    • Three of those players are no longer on the roster
    • Four are backups, including three that are the primary backup at their linebacker position
The Steelers are going to need for their younger players to step up and take the reins of this defense in the coming few years.  However, if they continue to play the way they have recently, that future might be now.

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