Neal Coolong (@NealCoolong), the site manager with Behind the Steel Curtain (@BTSteelCurtain), sits down with Scott Bantel to preview the Bengals and Steelers game on Sunday Night Football. If the Bengals win, they claim the AFC North Championship.
Q: In the last three games, the Steelers have allowed three 300 yard passers, including 302 for Dalton in their first matchup. Why is the pass defense struggling?
A: Teams are throwing short against them more often, and the Steelers' general defensive philosophy is to keep receivers in front of them. That's a generic way to describe their defense, but tackling the catch in a receptions-driven league has some logical sense. It also drives fans crazy. I guarantee you by the end of the Bengals' first offensive series you'll see Steelers fans screaming for a cornerback (probably Antwon Blake if he sees the field) to play closer to the receiver, who may have just caught something in front of him.
The theory is, limiting the big play by giving the defensive back an opportunity to tackle as the receiver catches the pass (if they can't make a play on the ball) forces the offense to complete seven or eight passes in order to score. Doing that over the course of a game is difficult - 32 completions in order to get four scoring drives without giving up sacks or turning the ball over is pretty tough to do.
Look at the Chiefs last week. They exaggerated the common strategy against that kind of a defense hugely by not even trying to throw passes beyond six yards down the field. They made a few defenders miss, picked up a few extra yards but failed to score a touchdown. Sure, Alex Smith had a "big" game, but what did he accomplish on his offense? Very little, if anything. The Steelers attacked the Chiefs' running game - their primary weapon - and suffocated it, daring Smith to beat them down the field. He couldn't do it.
Outside of that, I certainly don't need to speak to you of the greatness of A.J. Green - a guy who, considering his length, athleticism and Cincinnati's willingness to throw him the ball 40 times a game, particularly against the Steelers - is by and large indefensible. The odd thing is, though, the last two times the Steelers have allowed 200 receiving yards to one player, they won both games. Green went off, because that's what Green does, but the defense allowed 21 points. Matt Ryan's error in the first half of their Week 15 loss to the Steelers haunted him; he had a good passing game and his offense scored 20 points. So the question is really how much of an impact did these quarterbacks really make?
It'd be great to see the Steelers with a pass defense the level of Seattle's, but they simply don't have that. If their streak of 300 passing yards allowed coincides with their streak of games won, we can establish it takes a 300 yard passer to lose by at least a touchdown to the Steelers.