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Steelers' fifth-ranked "D" hasn't played as well as rating implies

The SportsXchange

Andy Dalton has already thrown nine interceptions this season, but the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback should get a breather in that area this week.

Pittsburgh rarely picks off passes. In fact, the Steelers have just two interceptions in five games.

The Steelers have a problem on defense that goes back to last season. Their ranking is a solid No. 5, but upon further inspection, they don't look so good.

Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley was stunned when he was told the team ranked fifth in the NFL in fewest average yards allowed per game.

"We have to go out there and stop the run in order to force them to do some passing," Woodley said. "This whole year, we haven't been forcing teams to do anything; we've allowed them to run the ball and pass the ball on us. Over the past few years, we've been doing a great job of stopping the run, and then we can come off the edge and apply pressure on the quarterback."

That too has been lacking. With just 11 sacks in five games, the Steelers are on pace to equal their 21-year low of 35, which they recorded last season. They also had only 11 interceptions last season, tying their record for fewest in a 16-game season.

Safety Ryan Clark, who has been playing at a high level, put some of the onus on the front seven for those low interception numbers.

"We play a lot of man-to-man, a lot of fire zone which is basically man-to-man," Clark said. "You don't see the ball a lot. So if you're not getting pressure and forcing bad throws, it's tough to get interceptions because you're not turned around where you can see the ball and look at it. That kind of goes hand to hand with our defense."

Injuries and age have cut into a Steelers defense that ranked No. 1 in fewest yards allowed and fewest points allowed last season. Pass-rushing outside linebackers James Harrison and Woodley have played less than one quarter together this season because of injuries to both. Last season, Harrison missed five games and Woodley virtually half the season.

"It's always good to have your two best pass rushers playing at the same time," said Woodley, who had nine sacks in the first eight games last season before suffering a hamstring injury. "Unfortunately, since last year, we haven't been playing at the same time. That's when you count on your other people to step up and go out there and play. That's what we did when James was out and I was out; other people have to step up and play some football."

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League type:
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10 players
Draft time:
Sep 3 9:00 am
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