Defensive grades: Lions continue roller coaster

The strange season for the Steelers defense continued with another up and down performance against the lowly Lions on Sunday. The defense kept backup QB Daunte Culpepper in check most of the game, but faltered again down the stretch. A dominant series to end the game was nice to see, but it was hard not to be at least a little frustrated with the soft defense we had to watch down the stretch yet again.

Read on…

Defensive line: B+
They did a good job containing Kevin Smith and held him to 2.7 YPC.  Aaron Smith went down with an injury early in the game and Ziggy Hood saw his first meaningful playing time this year. Smith’s absence didn’t effect the unit too much, but over the course of an entire season could be diastrous. The Detroit performance was business as usual for a group that does a lot of things and rarely gets any credit.

Linebackers: A-
James Harrison had a decent amount of sacks intering the Detroit game, but this felt like the first week that Deebo and the rest of the LB crew broke out and played up to their potential. Harrison had 3 sacks, Woodley had 1.5 and Timmons added another. They were getting consistent pressure at most points during the game and did a solid job in coverage.

Defensive backs: C+
Getting Troy Polamalu back will hopefully work wonders for a unit that’s been stretched thin so far during the season. Keiwan Ratliff looked pretty terrible and was easily beaten by Steelers killer Dennis Northcutt for a 4th quarter touchdown. On the bright side, William Gay had a terrific game and continues to be a solid tackler near the line of scrimmage. They did let Culpepper throw for nearly 300 yards despite not having Calvin Johnson for nearly the entire game.

Defensive coaching: B
Dick LeBeau got a lot more agressive in his blitzing schemes, especially towards the end of the game. The defense only gave up 13 points on the day, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at. It was just maddening to watch guys like Northcutt tear apart a defense once again late in the game. LeBeau was handcuffed playing without Polamalu, Smith, and Ryan Clark, who was shaken up for a few plays. It was one of his better games this season and the Steelers were one or two more stops in the 4th quarter from flawlessly executing on defense.