How much change is coming for a defense that slipped this season and struggled late in games remains to be seen. What does seem certain is that Dick LeBeau will be back for at least one more season as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator.
LeBeau, who just completed his 51st NFL season as a player or coach, has told his players that he has no plans to retire. And he apparently got out in front of the rumor that starts around this time of year on an annual basis given his age — and the fact that the 72-year-old LeBeau has accomplished so much during his decorated career.
“He told us in a meeting a couple of weeks ago,” Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said of LeBeau returning for the 2010 season. “He told our defense they’re going to have to kick him up out of here so I took his word for it.”
LeBeau reiterated that message to his players during a brief meeting with them Monday at the Steelers’ South Side practice facility.
“He said that he’s looking forward to next year,” Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
The players are probably just as anxious for it if only so they can forget what just transpired in the 2009 season.
The Steelers went 9-7 and missed the playoffs a season after winning an NFL-record sixth Super Bowl.
A defense that carried the team in 2008 has to share in the blame that can be spread around for the Steelers underachieving this season.
The Steelers finished third in the NFL in rushing defense (89.9 yards per game) and fifth in total defense (305.3). The defense, however, failed to protect fourth-quarter leads in five of the Steelers’ seven games.
One explanation for why the Steelers were not as dominant on defense as they were in 2008 is injuries to strong safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith.
Polamalu played in just five games and none after the middle of November because of two injuries to his left knee. Smith, meanwhile, sustained a season-ending arm injury on Oct. 18.
“Those are basically our two best players on defense, having those two guys out really affected the way we went out there and played,” Farrior said. “Having those two impact-type of players not out there, I think it hurt us a little bit.”
Age may have also encroached on a unit that finished first in total and passing defense in 2008 and second in rushing defense.
Farrior, who just completed his 13th NFL season, struggled to stay with running backs when opposing teams passed the ball. That raised questions as to whether Farrior, who turns 35 tomorrow, and some of his teammates have slowed down.
“I definitely think that my age is getting up there and I might’ve lost a step,” Farrior said, “but I think my mental part of the game helps me keep up (the) pace.”
Farrior said he hopes the Steelers experience minimal turnover during the offseason.
Justin Hartwig agreed.
The veteran center said he thinks that the Steelers are a lot closer to the team that won a Super Bowl than the one that lost five consecutive games at one point during the season and missed the playoffs.
“I think we have a really good core group,” Hartwig said. “With the group that we have, obviously, we’re capable of winning a Super Bowl. So, I’d be surprised if there was a lot of turnover. I think we’ve proven that we can get it done with the group of guys that we have.”
Woodley says no need for incentives
LaMarr Woodley may have predicted that playoff-bound teams would “lay down” in their final regular-season games to keep the Steelers out of the postseason.
That doesn’t mean the outside linebacker thinks it is a good idea for the NFL to get involved when it comes to games at the end of the regular season.
During CBS’s telecast of the Steelers-Dolphins games last Sunday, commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will look into a system that rewards teams that play to win even if they can’t significantly improve their position in the playoffs.
The awarding of compensatory draft picks to such teams is one idea the NFL’s competition committee is likely to consider after the season.
“I don’t think you need to do all that,” Woodley said Monday. “I can’t see having incentives.”
As for what he said last week and the reaction it caused, Woodley said, “I’m not a guy who starts trouble, but sometimes you have to speak your mind. Sometimes, you’re wrong. And sometimes, you’re right. But if you watched the games, you can tell me if I’m wrong or right.”
The Steelers needed wins by the Bengals and Patriots to get into the playoffs.
The Patriots blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead in a 34-27 loss to the Houston Texans. The Bengals were drilled 37-0 by the New York Jets.
13 — Steelers NFL rank in touchdowns scored (27) when they were in the red zone this season.
20 — Steelers’ NFL rank in turnover differential (-3).
“He gave his playmakers an opportunity to make plays and we took full advantage of every opportunity that he’s given us throughout this season. The job that he’s done with us and helped molding us into complete players is something he definitely can take a lot of credit for.”
Steelers wide receiver on offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.