On the Steelers: Defense looks to rebound
Steelers safety Ryan Clark tackles Patriots running back Danny Woodhead in the second quarter of last Sunday's game at Heinz Field.
Share with others:
It might be a stretch to say the Steelers were humbled by the New England Patriots. To be sure, it is not a word being used in their locker room to describe what happened Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Outside their locker room is a different matter.
"There's nothing to really be humble about because I don't think I was that high on us or that high on myself," said outside linebacker James Harrison. "I never look at us as a team that can't be beat on any given Sunday."
The Patriots proved that last week in a 39-26 victory, a game in which Tom Brady methodically cut through their EZ Pass defense and dictated the pace with 350 yards passing and three touchdowns, all to rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski.
While the Steelers (6-3) are desperately trying to forget what happened against the Patriots, they also are hoping those failures will serve as a reminder what can happen when they don't pay attention to detail and don't execute -- the prevailing sentiment of what ailed them against New England.
They get their first chance at repentance Sunday against the Oakland Raiders (5-4), a team that should remind them of that very basic tenet, especially after what happened last season at Heinz Field.
"You can't let things linger," said safety Ryan Clark. "It's one game. That's been the mentality around here so long, that, if someone moves the ball on the Pittsburgh Steelers or somebody plays a better game than the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's the end of the world. Well, it's not."
It just seems like Armageddon in the secondary, where the Steelers have allowed an average of 288 yards passing in the past five games and seven touchdowns in the past three. Nickel back William Gay has been a frequent target, allowing three touchdowns in the past two games, including two to Gronkowski.
But even the NFL's No. 1 rush defense showed a small sign of cracking against the Patriots. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained 17 yards the first time the Patriots ran the ball, the longest run against the Steelers this season. He finished with 87 yards on 18 carries, easily the most yards by an opposing running back this season.
Granted, some of that was because the Steelers were using a lot of nickel defense to protect against Brady, who completed 30 of 43 passes. But, as even inside linebacker James Farrior noted, "Not all of them were against the nickel."
Brady sliced the Steelers' defense so well that everything the Patriots tried, even running the ball, worked.
"I feel like our defense is way better than what we played," Farrior said. "You got to give those guys credit. They just outplayed us. We definitely don't want to have those kind of performances."
They can start against the Raiders, a team that usually likes to take the opposite approach of using the run to set up the pass. The Raiders are averaging 38.6 points per game during their three-game winning streak, tied for the longest in the NFL.
Running back Darren McFadden leads the league's No. 2 rushing offense with an NFL-best average of 108.6 yards per game and is tied for second behind Ahmad Bradshaw of the New York Giants with eight runs of 20 yards or longer.
But the Raiders used the pass to beat the Steelers, 27-24, last season at Heinz Field, a game in which former Seton-LaSalle High School quarterback Bruce Gradkowski passed for 188 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
And history will note that, in 2002, Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon attempted 64 passes and threw for 401 yards in a 30-17 victory at Heinz Field.
"We know we have things to fix," Clark said. "[The Patriots] executed a great game plan. Tom Brady is arguably one the top two quarterbacks in the league. He had a great game, he was poised, and we didn't get lot of pressure on him. We let guys run open, and he hit them. That's what we're doing right now, we're fixing those things."
NOTES -- Defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring) worked lightly in team drills for the first time this week, but he is not expected to play against the Raiders. He will be replaced by Nick Eason. .... Offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu (ankle), who did not play against the Patriots, practiced for the second day in a row and is expected to start.
First Published November 20, 2010 12:00 am