By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — If you were concerned that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wasn’t taking enough heat for his group’s play during the club’s 1-2 start, don’t be distressed.
LeBeau is hard enough on himself, especially when he watches video from this season’s games, and he gave a self-assessment Wednesday after practice. The Steelers worked out a second time this week before taking four days off.
“Generally speaking,” LeBeau noted, “I usually say: ‘You dumb ass, why did you call that defense?’ But we’re not where we want to be, and I think in this business you’re never as good as you think you are or not quite as bad as maybe they say you are. So, we’re getting a good effort and some good plays, but not nearly enough. That’s why we need to tighten up the cracks.
“The big problem has been big plays. In our two losses, there were two big plays, and you can’t have those. It doesn’t matter who’s out there, we can’t allow that to happen. We didn’t get off the field in the second half out there in Oakland. We had too many cracks, and they got the ball in there. So, we’ve got to tighten down and get off the field.”
Veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote would agree, since the Raiders were 7-for-12 on third down last Sunday. More importantly, they scored on five straight possessions to close out the game, including the final one in the first half and all four in the second half.
The Raiders recorded 16 first downs in the second half, including six on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that actually went 90 yards due to a holding penalty. The score got the home team back in the game and kept the Steelers on their heels.
“This city’s built on defense, and this locker room is built on it,” Foote said. “So, we know we let everybody down. But we’re working on getting it corrected. I wouldn’t have thought this would be a good week for a bye week, but it’ll be good for the guys to get away and look at themselves.
“And when we get back we’ll be ready to go on Monday. Hopefully, we’ll get a couple guys back, and we’ll keep pushing. The calls here have been the same since the early 1990s, but as players we have to look in the mirror. The coaches can get better, too, of course they’re always going to say that.
“But it’s the players that have to play,” Foote added. “Sometimes, you can get caught up in just trying to play hard and aggressive, but you’re not trusting the defense. Not the other players, but the defense. And that can’t happen. The bottom line is that we have to make a play when we get a chance.”
LeBeau was more inclined to accept blame for any problems on defense.
“I always look at myself first, and I hope (the players) do, too,” LeBeau said. “When things aren’t the way that you want them to be, something’s got to be done differently. So, we’re working on that, but I believe in these guys. And I believe in what we’re doing. When people are making more plays than us, it looks like they’ve got us figured out.
“When they’re not, it looks like they don’t have us figured out. So, it all comes down to how we play and how we execute, really, and the coach is involved in that, too. I’ve got to give them things that they can execute. Statistically, it’s right there. We finish the Jets game, and we only give up 10 points and win it. If we would have played like that in the other two games, we’d have three wins.”
Running Game To Get Boost
While he was non-committal, as usual, his teammates were positive that Rashard Mendenhall would return to the lineup next week and play his first game since a torn ACL in his right knee during Jan. 1, 2012, in the regular-season finale at Cleveland. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley believed that Mendenhall’s return would be an asset.
“I hope that it helps us a bunch,” Haley said. “Last game, you look at it statistically, and say we’re not running the ball. But we went into that game knowing what type of game it would be, that they would have a hard time stopping us throwing the football. So, it was important that we ran efficiently.
“When you broke that game down … we converted the first downs running. The average isn’t where you would like it to be. You would like to see some of those come out to be bigger runs, but they were efficient runs. (And) to get another difference-maker back hopefully will be a big deal for us.”
Practice Update: Several Teammates not optimistic Harrison will play vs Eagles
Safety Troy Polamalu (right calf strain) practiced again Wednesday and said he felt better than the day before, but outside linebacker James Harrison (left knee) was not on the field.
This led some to believe he had another setback after practicing on a full-time basis Tuesday. Several teammates were not optimistic that Harrison (left knee) would be ready to play against Philadelphia Oct. 7 at Heinz Field.
Steelers safety Ryan Mundy was fined $21,000 for his hit on Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who suffered a concussion and neck injury for the end-zone hit that forced him to stay overnight in an area hospital.