MIRZA ZUKIC: LeBeau's demise was greatly exaggerated
November 11, 2013 10:55 AM
by MIRZA ZUKIC

In a matter of a few hours, Dick LeBeau went from having lost his effectiveness to being a genius once again.

From having been passed by the new-age NFL to a premier defensive coordinator once again.

A week removed from the worst defensive game any Pittsburgh Steelers team had ever played in the 80-year history of the franchise, LeBeau and the Steelers defense delivered arguably their best game of the season in Sunday’s 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field.

And just as quickly as pundits and fans were ready to force the 76-year-old defensive coordinator out of Pittsburgh, they jumped back on the LeBeau bandwagon after Sunday’s win.

If you learned anything from it, it should be that LeBeau still knows what he’s doing, not that the Steelers players thought otherwise.

“I don’t listen to you guys throughout the season, so I’m not sure what criticism he was taking,” veteran safety Ryan Clark said to reporters surrounding his locker. “Whatever criticism he does take ever is unwarranted. It’s undeserved. … If something happens on the field on Sunday, it’s not because of the calls. It’s not because of a lack of preparation. Coach LeBeau always has us prepared. We have to go out and execute. That’s what we’re paid to do.

“If any criticism is to be heaped on anyone or if anybody is to get the blame that we didn’t play well, it should be the players, not the coaches.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Is it LeBeau’s fault that the Steelers are not the same sure-tackling team that Steelers Nation is used to seeing?

Or that they had two pass interference penalties in the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s game? Luckily for the Steelers, rookie EJ Manuel and the Bills couldn’t make them pay for those, but a Pro Bowl quarterback like Tom Brady or Matthew Stafford, who comes to town next weekend, will surely do more with drive-extending gifts like that.

Or is LeBeau to blame that Ike Taylor can’t come up with an interception even when the ball hits him right in his hands? Like Sunday for example, when he read a third-quarter pass for Stevie Johnson, jumped his route and placed himself in perfect position to come up with his first interception of the season. Is LeBeau to blame for Taylor’s butterfingers?

Taylor might have the reputation of being one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the NFL, but he also might have the worst hands in the league.

Forcing turnovers has been a problem for the Steelers for three seasons now, and I’ve heard them say over and over again that they just “can’t catch a break.”

Boo-hoo. Nobody is going to walk over to Taylor and hand him the ball. He has to make a play.

It all comes back to the fact that the Steelers of recent years just simply lack playmakers on defense.

Like Troy Polamalu said last week, it’s not that LeBeau’s schemes are all of a sudden not working anymore. It’s just a lack of execution on the players’ part.

The Steelers’ veteran defensive coordinator improved his record against rookie quarterbacks to 17-2 and quickly restored the credibility he seemed to have lost in many fans’ eyes after the pounding his defense took in New England a week earlier.

There was nothing mystical about it, though, to use Mike Tomlin’s vocabulary.

“We tackled well. It’s fundamental,” Tomlin said. “You maintain your ground, you shed blocks, you make tackles, and you’re where you’re supposed to be. That’s what we were able to do.”

At the same time, the Steelers’ defense didn’t solve all its problems with Sunday’s shutdown performance, either.

This is still a defense that lacks playmakers who will come up with “splash plays,” as Tomlin likes to say. It’s like having speed on offense; it’s not something that can be taught. Some guys just have it, and most others don’t. Well, the Steelers’ defense is full of the latter, and no matter what schemes LeBeau comes up with, that’ll be hard to change.

That doesn’t mean they’re not good players, because they are. But they’re not game-changers. Polamalu used to be, but not anymore.

The Steelers thought they had one in Jarvis Jones, which was one of the reasons they took him with their first-round pick in this year’s draft, but more than halfway through his rookie season, he hasn’t lived up to the expectations, at least from that standpoint. He has no turnovers to his credit, and he finally recorded his first sack in his eighth game Sunday.

There’s nothing LeBeau can do about that.

But at least you can rest easy, Steelers Nation, knowing that he’s still the same capable defensive coordinator you’ve come to expect.

Now the players just have to start making some plays.

I’m talking about you, Ike Taylor.

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