In what must seem as though it were eons ago, or perhaps just a dream of better days gone by, Troy Polamalu spent the other day recalling a season in which the Steelers defense was not yielding big plays at an alarming clip, not like they are after just eight games of the 2013 season.

And it wasn't that long ago.

In 2011, the Steelers ranked No. 1 in the National Football League in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense. They were the only team in the league to record two shutouts that season. Their pass defense was so tight, they allowed only 21 pass plays of 25 yards or longer, easily the fewest in the league. They allowed a league-low two passes of 40 yards or longer, just one longer than 50 yards (73). And they didn't allow a run longer than 42 yards.

Polamalu was standing at his locker, trying to make sense of the disparity.

"That's kind of weird," said the seven-time Pro Bowl safety. "It's amazing we've been on defense that only gave up one big offensive run and one big pass play and now we've given up so many. You hate to look back like that. You try to think of what your mental preparation was going into each game and how we were prepared each game and what the difference is between now and then."

The Steelers have spent the past week trying to determine what the difference is in a defense that, less than two years removed from their 2011 performance, has collapsed in a monumental heap.

They are coming off a game against the New England Patriots in which they gave up more points (55) and more yards (610) than at any point in their 81-year history. On top of that, they gave up two more plays of 50 yards or longer -- passes of 57 yards to Danny Amendola and an 81-yard touchdown to Aaron Dobson -- pushing their season total of plays allowed longer than 50 yards to eight, most in the league.