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Pittsburgh Steelers' defense no longer safe fantasy option

The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) have struggled out of the gate this NFL season, thanks in large part to injuries. And while Ben Roethlisberger (sprained foot) and Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) grab most of the headlines, the Steelers' defense has not been immune to the injury bug.

Look no further than starting linebacker James Harrison, who is out at least three weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a broken orbital bone around his right eye. He sustained the injury in Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, the same game in which Big Ben and Mendenhall sustained their respective injuries.

Just as injuries to two of the Steelers' key offensive playmakers will impact the unit's production this coming Sunday and moving forward, the same is true for the defense. Harrison's loss will result in a shuffling among the linebackers with Lawrence Timmons moving from inside to Harrison's outside position and veteran Larry Foote taking over at inside linebacker for Timmons.

The Steelers also have injury concerns along the defensive line as starting end Aaron Smith is dealing with a foot sprain of his own and could miss this Sunday's game.

Injuries aside, the main issue when it comes to the Steelers' defense from a fantasy standpoint is this — it's not the safe option it used to be.

In 2010, the Steelers were the highest-scoring team defense in fantasy football, according to Athlon Sports' standard scoring system. This year, the Steel Curtain currently ranks 19th among team defenses.

That doesn't mean the Steelers' defense is among the worst statistically. In fact, they currently rank second in the NFL in total defense, yielding just 277 yards of total offense a game, and are tops in pass defense (158 yards per game). They also have given up just 18 points per game, a number that's helped immensely by the Steelers' Week 2 shutout of the Seattle Seahawks.

These numbers, however, haven't carried over into the fantasy world. The main reason for the drop in fantasy production? A decline in sacks and turnovers.

In 2010, the Steelers led the NFL in sacks with 48 and forced 35 turnovers (21 interceptions, 14 fumbles), which tied them for third in the league. Through the first four games of this season the Steelers have just seven sacks, which is tied for the fourth-lowest total in the league, and a grand total of one takeaway.

So what happens when you combine an ineffective pass rush and in-opportunistic defense with a shuffled starting line up that will be missing one, if not two, key members? The recipe for a team defense that is probably best to be avoided in your starting line up certainly this week, if not the foreseeable future.

In fact, when it comes to a replacement, you might want to take a look at the team that will be on the other side of the ball in Pittsburgh this Sunday — the Tennessee Titans. Led by first-year head coach Mike Munchak, the Titans (3-1) have been one of the NFL's early-season surprise teams, thanks in large part to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a stingy defense.

The Titans currently lead the NFL in points allowed at 14 per game and are among the top 10 in both rushing and passing defense. The Titans also have 10 sacks and have forced seven turnovers and get to face a Steelers' offense, whose offensive line has already yielded 14 sacks and is nowhere-near 100 percent headed into this Sunday's game. Not to mention the same can be said of their quarterback and top running back.

The Titans are currently the ninth-ranked team defense according to Athlon Sports' standard scoring system, and chances are you can find them on your league's waiver wire.

Besides the Steelers' defensive issues, the vaunted Ravens team defense is on bye this week as well as the surprising Redskins and popular Cowboys. Other than the Titans, here are some other possible replacement team defense options for this week:

Arizona Cardinals — currently the 13th-ranked team defense, the Cardinals have been able to consistently pressure the quarterback (10 sacks) and make some big plays on special teams. This Sunday they travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings and their 23rd-ranked offense.

Buffalo Bills — probably the surprise team of the NFL to this point, the Bills are the 10th-ranked team defense, thanks in large part to turnovers (11 takeaways) and defensive scores (two). Their matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles may not look to appealing on first glance, but the Eagles are struggling as a team right now and have shown a tendency to turn the ball over (10, tied for second-highest total in NFL).

Cincinnati Bengals — the Bengals are the 16th-ranked team defense right now, but on Sunday they get to face the Jacksonville Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert, the rookie who will be making just his third career start. Gabbert is completing less than half of his passes to this point and the Bengals' pass rush (10 sacks so far) may be able force him into some mistakes.

Indianapolis Colts — don't laugh. Yes, the Colts are bad, on both sides of the ball, but this Sunday they get the Kansas City Chiefs at home. And while the Chiefs have done something the Colts haven't yet (win a game), their offense is ranked 29th in the league and they have scored the third-fewest points so far. Believe it or not, the Colts are currently the 18th-ranked team defense, which is one spot ahead of the afore-mentioned Steelers.

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