The Pittsburgh Steelers head into the bye week at 1-2, with both losses occurring against AFC opponents on the road. The team suffered both losses while missing at least two key defensive players, which left them trying to outscore their opponents. Many Steelers fans believe that a slow start means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but the two losses scare me. In each match, Pittsburgh failed to stop the opposing offenses on third down, which led to 30+ point yields. This team's defensive struggles may leave them watching the 2012 playoffs instead of playing.
Against Denver, Pittsburgh's defense stopped Payton Manning in the first half. Manning then shook the rust off after not playing for nearly two years, and shredded the Ryan Clark-less Steelers defense for scores on each second half drive. The Broncos started using the no-huddle offense, which left the aging Casey Hampton on the field play-after-play. Also, Manning's consistent audible plays took Troy Polamalu out of the game. With an exhausted defensive line, and lack of secondary support, the Broncos' offense simply carved Pittsburgh's defense apart. To make things worse, Willis McGahee ran for 64 yards, mostly for first downs in third down situations. Denver scored on an interception return for a touchdown to skew the score, but the Steelers still allowed the Broncos to score 31 points against their "great" defense.
Pittsburgh seemed to hit their stride in week 2 against the Jets after the opening New York drive. Mark Sanchez found Santonio Holmes in the end zone after several pass interference penalties let the Jets drive down field. After that, the defense only allowed three points for the remainder of the game. I attribute the win to brilliant ball control by the Steelers offense (36:36 to 23:34), but the defense certainly played well. Oh yeah, Tim Tebow broke for a 22-yard run by slipping through Pittsburgh's defensive line. The Jets rushed for 90 yards in the loss. The Steelers played without Polamalu and Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, and still won.
Against Oakland, Pittsburgh seemed to dominate most of the game, but the defensive ability to stop the Raiders failed to exist. Every time the Steelers took the lead, Oakland seemed to either tie the game, or inch closer. Darren McFadden rushed for 113 yards on 18 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown run. With a 10-point-lead in the 4th quarter, Oakland systematically drove the ball down the field and scored three times (2TD, 1FG) to win the game, 34-31.
I understand that Troy Polamalu and James Harrison missed significant time thus far, but the defensive line needs to stop the run and apply some pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Lamarr Woodley and Larry Foote played well in all three games, but players like Lawrence Timmons and Casey Hampton disappeared. The Steelers need to find a way to stop the run and get off the field on third downs. If no one steps up, then Pittsburgh will be watching other teams fight for the Lombardi Trophy this year.

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