CBs not coming up with interceptions
Ike Taylor drops an interception against the Chiefs in overtime Nov. 22. The Steelers cornerbacks do not have an interception this season.
Share with others:
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker made his first NFL start against the Steelers a couple of weeks ago and had two key interceptions in the Chiefs' 27-24 overtime victory in Arrowhead Stadium -- the first turning the game around at the start of the third quarter.
Baltimore Ravens rookie linebacker Paul Kruger started for injured Terrell Suggs against the Steelers and intercepted a Dennis Dixon pass in overtime, leading to the Ravens' 20-17 victory.
What do Studebaker and Kruger have in common?
They each have more interceptions than any of the Steelers cornerbacks.
After 11 games, Ike Taylor, William Gay and nickel back Deshea Townsend do not have an interception. Neither do backups Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett.
Even the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, who are tied for the fewest interceptions (6) in the NFL, have a cornerback with at least one interception.
Last year, Steelers cornerbacks had six of the team's 20 interceptions, including two each by Townsend and former corner Bryant McFadden.
"That's amazing; that's very surprising," said Townsend, who had the biggest interception of them all during the regular season in 2008: the 25-yard touchdown return that gave the Steelers a 20-13 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14.
"The season is getting short and it's time to start making those plays. It's in the back of our heads, but we're not pressing."
The Steelers have eight interceptions this season -- three by safety Troy Polamalu, two each by safeties Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter and another by linebacker Keyaron Fox. Typically, the lack of picks would not be a disturbing problem for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
But, because opposing teams are suddenly making big plays against the secondary with great regularity, it is becoming more of an issue.
The Steelers (6-5) are hoping to rectify the situation tomorrow at Heinz Field when they play the Oakland Raiders (3-8), who have the league's most meager passing offense.
The Raiders have only 14 pass plays of 20 yards or longer in 11 games, fewest in the NFL.
The Steelers led the NFL in fewest pass plays of 40 yards or longer (2) last season, but they have allowed six in the past three games alone -- including a 54-yarder and a 44-yard catch-and-run in the loss to the Ravens.
"I more than 'don't like' those big plays," LeBeau said. "We're giving up too many of them, no question about it. Plays are going to get in there in the NFL, but what I'd like to see us do is intercept some. You got to make people pay if they're going to go downtown. We're not picking those off.
"Our emphasis is making them pay a little more when they want to go deep on us. We definitely have to cut those plays off."
But Townsend said don't expect to see the cornerbacks start gambling or taking chances merely to make an interception.
"We're not going to go out there and sit on a route if they run a go and they score seven points. That's jeopardizing the total concept of our defense," he said.
"Plays just have to come. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't."
Typically, LeBeau does not use his cornerbacks in press coverage at the line of scrimmage because his No. 1 priority is to take away the big play. And he does that by stressing to his cornerbacks to keep the ball in front of them and tackle the receiver when he catches the pass.
Not only are the Steelers getting beat for deep passes, but they also have allowed short catches to turn into long gains in each of the past two games -- a 61-yarder by Kansas City's Chris Chambers in overtime and a 44-yarder by running back Ray Rice in Baltimore.
"It's just that last year we made plays, this year we didn't," said Gay, who has replaced McFadden as the full-time starter. "That's what it boils down to. It's not like we're getting beat or anything. We're just not making plays."
Gay, who had one interception last season, seems to be a frequent target for opposing quarterbacks, as much because teams tend to throw away from Taylor when he is guarding the other team's top receiver.
Baltimore's Mark Clayton had seven catches for 129 yards Sunday -- both season highs -- when he was matched, for the most part, against Gay. Even coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that Gay might continue to be targeted by other teams and said, "He better not blink."
"You can't run from it," Gay said. "You cant hide in coverage. You got to go out there and step up and be a man."
And intercept a few passes along the way.
NOTES -- Defensive end Travis Kirschke (calf) has not practiced all week and will not play against the Raiders. He is listed as doubtful. ... Guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee/probable) will return after missing the Ravens game.
First Published December 5, 2009 12:00 am