Steelers defense not yet over the hill

Steelers defense not yet over the hill
October 26, 2011, 8:23 pm
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FOXBORO Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is 31 years old. At linebacker, you have James Harrison who is 33 and counting. Then there's linebacker James Farrior, who will be 37 years old if the Steelers managed to get to the Super Bowl this season.

This Pittsburgh defense may be low on young bodies, but it's loaded with experience.

That lack of youth was thought to be why the Steelers got off to a pedestrian 2-2 start.

Three weeks -- and three consecutive wins -- later, the Steelers look like a different team than the one on the field during the first month of the season.

All that talk about this once-dominant defense being past their prime? It's a thing of the past now.

"We don't pay attention to the elevator music; we really don't," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, in a not-so-veiled reference to the up-and-down perception of his team in the media. "That's stuff that they say. We stay focused on what it is, we're doing. And that's how we prepare, and hopefully that's how we play. We understand that we're going to be judged in forms and fashions based on our performance. But just that, it's based on our performance. We stay focused on our performance."

And lately, that form has been impressive with each of their last three wins coming by an average of 12.3 points per game.

In addition, Pittsburgh (5-2) comes into Sunday's game against New England with the NFL's No. 3 defense.

Although Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a 6-1 record against Pittsburgh (4-1 in the regular season, 2-0 in the playoffs), he recognizes as much as anyone how good this team is defensively.

"They're very physical, they cover well, and they have continuity in their defense," Brady said. "They get after the quarterback, they really do. That's the hallmark of this defense - they rush the passer, they stop the run, they're a big physical defense that plays very hard and is very well coached. They don't make very many mental errors at all."

Of course, it also helps to have a versatile playmaker like strong safety Troy Polamalu who is third on the team in tackles (43) this season.

"He's very dangerous," said Pats coach Bill Belichick. "He's an impact player, very disruptive player. Defensively he fouls up a lot of things - blitzing, pass coverage, tackling, he's a hard hitter, knocks balls loose but he's around the ball a lot. He can get there in a hurry and when he gets there he can do a lot of damage. You have to be aware of him on every snap."

He's not alone, of course. Pittsburgh is giving up just 279 yards per game, and an NFL-low 171.9 through the air. Not bad for a bunch of old men, huh?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger chuckles at the thought of his defense being over the hill.

"Just stay the course," he said. "We're too old -- quote, unquote old -- to really let that bother us or get to us. Most of us have been around and kind of understand what goes with the territory of this league and a team and we just kind of . . . stay the course."