By: Colin Dunlap - CBS Pittsburgh

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had time to throw on Sunday.

He didn’t necessarily pick the Steelers’ secondary apart all day in terms of the yardage, but he did throw those five touchdowns in a it-really-wasn’t-that-close 35-32 win for the Saints.

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Know who this all gets back to, in a way? Casey Hampton.

New Orleans receiver Kenny Stills left the Steelers helplessly hoping at Heinz Field as he looked like the Marrakesh Express bursting through the defense. Down by the river, Stills caught five passes for 162 yards and a touchdown on this day.

Know who this all gets back to, in a way? Casey Hampton.

Saints running back Mark Ingram roared to 122 yards on 23 carries, poking holes in the Steelers’ front and falling forward all day long.

Know who this all gets back to, in a way? Casey Hampton.

Ask yourself this: Since Hampton played his final game for the Steelers in 2012, after a marvelous 12-year career in the middle of that 3-4 defense, has this team been able to leverage the scrimmage line near the point of respectability?

I say no. Absolutely, positively not.

That’s a problem. In fact, for me that’s the problem with this current edition of the Steelers’ defense, whether it shows at the scrimmage line, on the outside or inside with the linebackers or on the back end with the secondary — if you can’t get a push, if you can’t influence the middle of the scrimmage line, bad things are going to happen.

And, largely, over the past few seasons without Hampton, they have. Sunday’s loss against the Saints served as the latest microcosm.

“The bottom line is that we didn’t have enough cohesion, at different points in the game, to overcome our weaknesses to secure victory,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a postgame media conference.

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When using BabelFish and translated from The Language Of Tomlin to The Language Regular People Use When They Speak, this is what you are left with: “We weren’t good enough to win.”

On defense, it is glaringly obvious — to me at least — the defense isn’t good enough because there has never been a suitable replacement for Hampton. Perhaps asking for a player to fully replace what Hampton did for these Steelers is a bit of a stretch, as to me, the man who played 174 games after being selected in the first round in 2001 might just be one of the most underrated Steelers in history.

But the Steelers have tried Cam Thomas this year — and he gets blown back and can’t create any sense of havoc in the middle.

In my opinion, Steve McLendon has grossly underwhelmed when he’s played the last few seasons and, right now at least, Daniel McCullers is too young and not in good enough shape to do much.

Perhaps Alameda Ta’amu might have grown into a suitable force in the middle had he not made the ill-fated choice to play drunken pinball with his SUV on the South Side one night and written his ticket out of town.

No matter. Whomever the Steelers have tried since Hampton’s departure has fallen short and created a trickle down. When you play the 3-4, if there no push in the middle the linebackers can’t swoop in and make plays and the guys in the secondary are more easily exposed.

Anyone watching on Sunday against the Saints saw exactly that much happen.

Anyone watching the past few seasons also understands just how great of a football player Casey Hampton was — and how this organization has struggled as they can’t find a way to replace him.

The Steelers have a lot of problems right now, a whole lot of them. Not replenishing talent in the middle of that defensive line when Hampton left is among the chief problems.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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