PITTSBURGH -- Dick LeBeau, at his folksy best, gave this answer when asked if encroaching age is linked to defensive breakdowns this season that have been as stunning as they are alarming for the Steelers.
“My dear cousin, who’s like a brother to me, says the aging process sucks,” LeBeau said during his weekly chat with reporters. “Nobody knows that any better than I do.”
Actually quite the opposite is true when it comes to the Steelers’ defensive coordinator.
If anybody has aged more gracefully than LeBeau I’d like to see it. He is 76 but could easily pass for someone 20 years younger. He is still as quick-witted and sharp as ever -- even if some want to foolishly believe that LeBeau suddenly forgot how to coach after celebrating his birthday on Sept. 9.
What has seemingly aged in front of LeBeau is a defense that allowed the fewest yards in the NFL in each of the previous two seasons. The Steelers have given up 11 plays that have covered at least 50 or more yards this season, and the biggest culprit has to be age.
Or is it?
“I don’t believe the problems we’re experiencing there are age-related,” LeBeau said. “I really don’t.”
That appears to be a tough sell even if LeBeau has forgotten more about defense than most people will ever know.
Four of Pittsburgh's starters are north of 30, including three in a secondary that has collectively looked a step slow. But LeBeau said communication issues and players getting out of position are the primary reasons why the Steelers have been so prone to yielding big plays.
And count him among the few outside of Steelers headquarters who don’t think the team needs to dismantle the defense during an offseason that will bring plenty of change to the organization.
“I definitely don’t think the defense needs rebuilding,” LeBeau said of a unit that has slipped to 13th this season in yards allowed. “Maybe their coach is getting a little old. I think the players can still get it done. I do.”
LeBeau’s players still believe he can get it done, and they have never wavered in their faith in him. As for why he still has confidence in his defense, LeBeau said the breakdowns have happened in a handful of games -- not every one of them.
So have the leaks that the Steelers defense have sprung at seemingly the worst times made this season frustrating, confounding, disappointing for LeBeau? All of the above?
“None of that is what this is about,” LeBeau said. “If a coach is applying his profession steadfastly he won’t have time to even think about that kind of question you asked. I just work on what I see and trying to get us better. What can I do better? What can I help our players do better? And we’ve been plenty busy doing that.”