Steelers' Polamalu to miss one game, maybe more
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The Steelers' defense that played without Troy Polamalu for all but one series Sunday likely will have to do it again without him for one game, two, maybe three.
If they perform the way they did against the Cincinnati Bengals, they will have played winning defense. That is what happened Sunday, only no one on offense or special teams joined them.
The Steelers were mum yesterday on the results of the MRI on Polamalu's left knee, and issued no prognosis, but the All-Pro safety joined his teammates for meetings at the team's facility and it appears whatever reinjury there is will not end his season.
He left after the game's first series, and the NFL's fifth-ranked defense Sunday still rose to No. 2 in the rankings after they shut down Carson Palmer and the Bengals. They held Cincinnati to 218 total yards, the second lowest total of the season. They allowed only nine points on three field goals; the other nine came on a 96-yard kickoff return and one field goal after Ben Roethlisberger's interception was returned to the Steelers' 14.
One goal set by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau long ago is to hold an opponent to 17 points, usually good enough to win. They cut that nearly in half and it still was not good enough.
Linebacker James Farrior talked about one of the goals set by LeBeau entering Sunday's game.
"We had to have our red zone efficiency up to par," the defensive co-captain said. "They've been hot in the red zone throughout the season. That was a big concern for us. When they got down to the red zone, hold them to a field goal."
"We did it but we just didn't get enough on the other end," Farrior said. "We had a special teams touchdown and that hurt us big, man."
Perhaps Cincinnati's Palmer saw another game because he said that "we outschemed them with some of the stuff we were doing with the run game and the play-action game. We had a really good plan."
The Bengals produced 61 yards on 29 carries, a 2.1-yard average with a long run of 9 yards against the NFL's top-ranked run defense. Palmer had a 76.8 passer rating based on his small-ball stats of 18 of 30 for 178 yards.
Whatever schemes they used, their offense produced a miserly nine points.
Mike Tomlin and his two special teams coaches might find some older volunteers to cover kicks this week. Steelers veterans were not happy about a third kickoff returned for a touchdown in four weeks, the difference in Cincinnati's 18-12 victory.
"If they told me I had to go out there and play, I would," said Farrior, 34. "I think everybody's selfless enough to go out there if they had to do it. I know we have guys in here like that. I don't know if it's the guys out there doing it or if we just have to get a better scheme."
That third touchdown tied an infamous Steelers record set by their 6-10 team of 1986 and they have seven more games to top it. Among those not on the Steelers' kickoff team anymore are James Harrison, Anthony Madison and Brett Keisel. Harrison was taken off it this season and Madison, a crack coverage man released after camp, is now with the Indianapolis Colts after being available two weeks ago when Cleveland released him. Keisel has not been on the kickoff team for years but he made the most of that opportunity when he was young and he sounded surprised that younger players are not doing a better job of it today.
"It's definitely something that has to be addressed," Keisel said. "We can't expect that to happen week in and week out and have a chance to win. Special teams is all about desire, desire and want-to -- you want to get down there and make the play. Hopefully we can get things figured out there."
Asking Jeff Reed to make a saving tackle on a rookie running back is probably not the way to go about solving the kickoff coverage problem. Keyaron Fox, usually among their best special teams players, a co-captain and sure tackler, bounced off Bernard Scott, and Ryan Mundy and William Gay also had shots at Scott on his 96-yard jaunt.
"It's disappointing," Reed said. "We've given up TDs before, but three in nine games is not very good. Long returns are not even acceptable. Our goal is inside the 30 all the time, and I don't think we did that once today.
"It kind of [stinks] but I don't know how to explain it. Special teams is all want-to, man. It doesn't take a lot of skill to play special teams. You can't blame the coaches, you can't blame anybody. We're playing the game, find the returner and go to him. Some guys get double-teamed so they kind of bring him out of the play, but somebody's free if somebody's double-teamed so you have to make the play. The only one I can say that I should have made the play on was against Minnesota, and I thought the guy was closer to the sideline, so I didn't."
First Published November 17, 2009 12:00 am