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Free-falling defense costs Steelers

Steel City wake-up: morning links

The decline of a once-dominant defense is perhaps the biggest reason why the Steelers are already guaranteed a second straight non-winning season -- and are staring down the barrel of 7-9 or 6-10.

It was also inevitable as age brought down the vaunted Steel Curtain defenses that dominated the 1970s, just as it has done with the current unit.

The Steelers have given up 11 plays that have covered at least 50 yards. The most recent one – a 55-yard run by backup Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas – turned out to be the play of the game in a 34-28 loss to Miami at Heinz Field.

Most telling about how far the defense has fallen came near the end of the game. Coach Mike Tomlin opted to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Steelers’ 10-yard line. Had Tomlin punted and the Steelers forced a three-and-out they would have gotten the ball back with just under two minutes to play.

But Tomlin did not trust his defense enough to punt, an indignity that the unit has certainly earned with the way it has played.

There have been some bright spots on the defense this season, most notably the emergence of defensive end Cameron Heyward and outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

Worilds has been such a revelation, particularly since taking over for the injured LaMarr Woodley at left outside linebacker, that the Steelers could have a tough decision to make in the offseason.

Worilds will be an unrestricted free agent, and the Steelers would love to keep him. But they may have to make a choice between him and Woodley, and it is not as simple as cutting Woodley to free up enough money to sign Worilds.