Way back before the season even started, we wondered aloud about the age of the Steelers defense.
After the team lost in Week 1, Warren Sapp said the following about Pittsburgh’s crew: “Old, slow, and it’s over.”
In the weeks to follow, the Steelers defense seemed to answer any doubts. They finished first in the league in yards allowed, and first in passing yards allowed. They helped Pittsburgh win 12 games.
On Sunday in Denver, that same defense looked old once again.
Stalwart defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel both left the game with injuries. You can say that injuries are simply bad luck, but the reality is that all three of Pittsburgh’s Week 1 starting defensive linemen (including Aaron Smith) didn’t contribute against the Broncos.
At linebacker, James Farrior and James Harrison were not big difference makers. At cornerback, Ike Taylor was beaten soundly many times by Demaryius Thomas. Safety Troy Polamalu didn’t make one of his trademark game-changing plays.
There were other factors that hurt Pittsburgh than age. It was bad luck that Ryan Clark missed the game because of his sickle cell disease and his absence really hurt. LaMarr Woodley wasn’t 100%, but he’s not exactly a graybeard.
On top of the defensive problems, injuries to center Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, and running back Rashard Mendenhall were all factors in Pittsburgh’s loss.
The biggest factor, however, was the defense. The top-ranked pass defense in the league completely collapsed against the 31st passing attack. They lacked discipline and explosion. They didn’t get a single quarterback hit on Tim Tebow, much less a sack.
This Steelers defense is far from “over” but there’s no denying they are in transition. Many of their best players are on the downside of their career.