Secondary’s inability to adjust dooms Steelers

By Trevor Gould, writer

In the Steelers vs. Broncos wildcard matchup, Demaryius Thomas caught a deep aerial bomb by Tim Tebow near the beginning of the second quarter. Then it happened again. And again. And again. What did the heralded Pittsburgh defense do? Did they adjust accordingly to this new threat? No, they kept stacking the box, daring Tebow to beat them deep. And the second-year quarterback was more than happy to oblige.

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas scorched the Pittsburgh Steelers for more than 200 yards in an AFC Wildcard game Sunday in Denver. Photo by: Jeffrey Beall/Flickr

Now the Steelers are done for the season, finishing with a defensive performance that made one of the most one-dimensional quarterbacks appear three-dimensional. And yes, I’m well aware the Steelers defense bottled up the run, but that is irrelevant considering their horrendous secondary play. I cannot understand this. Everyone knows that while Tebow cannot throw a decent short to mid-ranged pass, he does have a somewhat respectable deep ball. Yet the Steelers seemed unable to make the necessary adjustments to stop it. The safeties stayed focused on stopping the run, leaving very talented wide receiver Demaryius Thomas one-on-one with a bewildered cornerback. To make matters worse, the Steelers’ cornerbacks, while not terrible, are nothing too special. They don’t possess the skills or instinctual abilities that make opponents fear the likes of Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha, or Brandon Flowers. Steelers cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay had to attempt to stop the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Thomas by themselves, a very formidable task. The touchdowns that stemmed from these deep bombs made the Steelers have to play catch-up for the rest of the game.

What I truly don’t understand is why Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau seemingly made no changes or modifications to the defensive strategy at all. Now I’m not trying to say I know better than LeBeau, because I obviously don’t. He is a defensive genius whose blitz schemes and defensive tactics have helped him lead some of the top defensive units in the league. But what was he thinking? Did he believe all the deep balls were simple flukes that didn’t deserve extra attention?

The first and final overtime play perfectly represented the Steeler defense’s terrible day. Thomas caught the pass and ran with break neck speed towards the end zone, with two Steelers cornerbacks desperately trailing behind him in his wake.

This defensive performance is going to haunt the Steelers all offseason.

If you would like to chime in on this piece, please leave a comment. You can also e-mail Trevor Gould at Also, don’t forget to leave us any questions in the mailbag on our homepage. We’ll later answer those questions in future blogs or podcast. And if you would like to become a part of the Couch Side show team, please send an e-mail our way through the mail bag on the homepage.  

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