Reporting Colin Dunlap
Tom Brady is really, really good. He ain’t that good.
Rob Gronkowski is really, really, really good. He ain’t that good.
Stevan Ridley is good. He surely ain’t that good — same for some rookie receiver from Marshall named Aaron Dobson.
But, on Sunday against the Steelers, they were all unstoppable.
Know why? Because the Steelers’ defense was that bad, allowing all those men to be, well, that good.
In a 55-31 loss to the New England Patriots that tumbled the Steelers’ record to a dead-men-walking 2-6, the defense was downright deplorable.
Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns.
Gronkowski caught nine passes for 143 yards, complemented by Dobson who grabbed five for 130 yards and two scores.
Ridley ran the ball 26 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
When you crunch all the numbers together, it added up to the Patriots accumulating 610 yards of offense as they ripped off 8.6 yards per offensive play.
Life is easy when it’s always second-and-a-long-one, huh?
Further putting things in perspective from what the defense couldn’t do against Brady’s Bunch, consider this: The Steelers have played football for eight decades and this was the worst statistical performance ever recorded by a defense representing the franchise.
Know what — it can’t all be on the players. It just can’t be. No way in the world.
Certainly the players have not performed at an acceptable level — and many will say the front office hasn’t acquired the right players — but isn’t it time to really investigate the effectiveness of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau?
I say it certainly is.
Players have to play, but they also have to be put into the best position to succeed. It is more than fair to question whether or not that is happening with this team right now.
In three of the Steelers’ six losses this season, the team has yielded 34 or more points. And in one of the games that they lost — even though they gave up “only” 21 points — the Steelers allowed the opposing quarterback to gallop 93 yards on the first snap of the game.
That is downright embarrassing stuff. We all remember Steelers football when it was bent on stifling the run, forcing the opposing quarterback to be uncomfortable and just generally being tougher, sturdier and more determined than the opposition.
The Steelers have been none of that this season — and it has to, at some level, fall on LeBeau.
LeBeau is a master of that 3-4 and the zone blitzing scheme, both anchored by a trio of hefty and bullish men at the scrimmage line who can leverage, seemingly, the entire middle of the field while the other guys swoop in and crunch the skill players.
Indeed, guys up front such as Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood have been largely ineffective this season (as they were against the Patriots) and it becomes nightmarish when that is parlayed with a secondary that has been downright inept at times.
Again, a good portion of that is on the players.
But how long can you stick with a 3-4 when it appears as if it could be antiquated and outmoded in this current vintage on the NFL which has become more like a video game each week?
That isn’t to say you can scrap it in the middle of the season, but it is plausible to have the medium and long term plans (translation: to start next season) push toward the full-time move to a 4-3 or something that it appears opposing offenses has found the antidote to.
This also isn’t to say Dick LeBeau should definitely be fired or made to retire. However, he shouldn’t be looked at as infallible, as many have done in the past and, likely, some still do.
When things aren’t going in a positive direction — as is the case right now for the Steelers — everything and everyone should be looked at as a something that could get replaced.
This includes the base 3-4 defense.
This includes Dick LeBeau.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.