View Full Version : The next great challenge for the Steelers' defense

09-23-2007, 05:41 AM
The next great challenge for the Steelers' defense
Sunday, September 23, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The names read like a Pro Bowl roster:

LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Jamal Lewis, Fred Taylor.

Not counting Willie Parker, they were about the best running backs the AFC had to offer last season. They included the top two runners in the NFL, three of the top four in the AFC and all of them with more than 1,100 yards rushing.

Not one gained 100 yards against the Steelers when they played them, including two games apiece by Rudi Johnson and Jamal Lewis.

That's nothing new, of course, because the Steelers enter today's game against San Francisco at Heinz Field with a stretch of 27 games without allowing a century runner, including playoffs. They've allowed just one to hit 100 yards against them in the past 52 games.

Today comes another challenge for them in the person of Frank Gore, who led the NFC with 1,695 yards rushing last season for San Francisco.

"What did he have, 1,600 yards last year? He's a good running back," defensive end Aaron Smith said. "We'll have our hands full."

They hope their hands are full from tackling Gore. The last runner to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers was Edgerrin James in the 11th game of the 2005 season in Indianapolis when he ran 29 times for 124 yards. The last previous runner to do so was Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson in the fourth game of the 2004 season. That's also the last time an opponent ran for 100 in Heinz Field. Johnson ran 24 times for 123 yards in a Bengals loss to the Steelers.

The stretch of 52 games with one 100-yard runner allowed compares to the great defenses in Baltimore which went 50 games, including playoffs, with no 100-yard rusher from the end of the 1998 season to near the end of the 2001 season. The Ravens' streak was the longest since Philadelphia went 53 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher from 1989-92.

The Steelers have played a 3-4 defense for the past 25 years and almost always go into games with their first goal to stop the run.

"There are two schools of thought and they've been around since when I played," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "Some coaches believe in just get off and get upfield and penetrate and play the run on the way to the quarterback. A lot of people coach that way and a lot of systems are built on that.

"We of course belong to the latter school which is you have to stop the run every week. That's how I think you win. I think you have to run the ball and stop the run."

It helps, LeBeau noted, to have the personnel to pull it off. The Steelers have what may be the best-three man line in the game, starting with Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and one-time Pro Bowl end Smith.

"That's what we do, stop the run," said Hampton. "It's definitely a point of pride and we go out with the intention of not giving up 100 yards."

It's probably no coincidence that Cleveland's Jamal Lewis looked to be over the hill when he ran 11 times for 35 yards in the opener against the Steelers. In his second game, Lewis ran 27 times for 216 yards against Cincinnati. The Steelers even used a new defense to help stop Lewis, trotting out a true four-man line in passing situations to give them more beef up front.

"It's been a tradition around here for a long time, before I even thought about being a Pittsburgh Steeler," said free safety Ryan Clark, in his second season here after coming from Washington as a free agent. "That's what they've been doing, stopping the run. That's what we're built on -- defense."

It's not just the front seven who are involved, either. Steelers cornerbacks, unlike many of their contemporaries around the league, must tackle or, to put it in football terms, come up and support the run.

"That's just part of the job when you come here," Smith said. "You have to tackle. I don't think a lot of teams do that with their corners."

The tradition stretches longer than the current streak. The Steelers have allowed 13 runners to gain 100 yards since 2000, fewest in the NFL. Baltimore is second with 18.

"We don't think about that,'' Hampton said of the streak. "We just go out there and try to shut it down the best we can. Hopefully, we can keep it up forever.''

09-23-2007, 05:46 AM
49ers' Gore hopes to snap Steelers' defensive streak
By Scott Brown
Sunday, September 23, 2007

If Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn't have a captive audience when he addressed the subject of stopping 49ers running back Frank Gore with his players last week, all he had to was pop in a tape of San Francisco's 17-16 win over St. Louis.
On a fourth-and-1 from the Rams' 43-yard line last Sunday, Gore burst through the line and ran into a host of Rams defenders. Like any good back -- and Gore might be the best in the NFC -- he kept his legs churning and broke free. He made a few nifty cuts and galloped to the end zone.

LeBeau could have stopped the tape right there and asked, "Any questions?"

There aren't many, if any, regarding Gore, who will run into one of the NFL's best run defenses today -- and that could turn out to be the case literally since the Steelers give up 100 rushing yards in a game to a back about as often as there is a Halley's Comet sighting.

The last time it happened was in late November 2005 when Edgerrin James, then of the Colts, rushed for 124 yards on 29 carries.
"And then," nose tackle Casey Hampton said, "we shut him down in the playoffs."

How well the 2-0 Steelers are able to contain the 5-9, 223-pound Gore will be the most intriguing game within the game when they play the also undefeated 49ers today at Heinz Field.

The third-year pro had a breakout season in 2006 rushing for 1,695 yards, tops in the NFC and the best single-season rushing mark in 49ers history. He also led San Francisco with 61 receptions last season and finished with 2,180 yards from scrimmage.

"When God invented football and said 'I want a running back to do this,' that's what Frank Gore is," said former Penn State star Michael Robinson, who is one of Gore's backups. "He can make every run, he has great hands, his footwork is awesome and he can block. It's hard to put into words some of the things he does because he's so gifted naturally as a running back."

Not that he acts like it.

Gore has gotten into the habit of calling Mike Nolan on the 49ers coach's cell phone after games to get a critique. When he went to the Pro Bowl last February, Gore spent part of the time peppering top running backs with questions of all kinds.

Proof of that was evident when the Chargers sent the 49ers DVDs of LaDainian Tomlinson giving press conferences so Gore could study the polished Chargers' star in that area.

Gore's drive can probably best be seen on the field as he continually fights for extra yards as if he were fighting for a roster spot.

"He's got the heart," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said of Gore. "To me that's the most impressive thing, how hard he runs. The heart, you can't teach that."

"He runs," said Steelers free safety Ryan Clark, "like he has something to prove."

Gore runs as if each carry might be his last one, which is not surprising given his history.

He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in each knee at the University of Miami.

He overcame those injuries as well as stiff competition -- at one point he shared a backfield with Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and current Steeler Najeh Davenport -- to rush for 1,975 career yards at Miami.

Concerns about his knees dropped him to the third round of the 2005 NFL draft, and the 49ers limited Gore his rookie season (he rushed for 608 yards on 127 carries) because he battled shoulder problems.

Nothing held him back last season, and he burst onto the scene like a supernova.

"Frank has said himself, many times, that the best thing that ever happened to him were the injuries and adversities that he faced because it really put him in place," Nolan said. "As he watches those other guys, I think Frank feels that they don't necessarily have an appreciation for what can be taken from you on such short notice. That's what I think really makes Frank a unique guy, is he has responded to plenty of adversity in a very positive way."

He faced more of it recently when his mother died after a lengthy battle with kidney disease.

Playing against the Rams less than a week after her death, Gore rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns. That included the 43-yarder which showed that no matter how good a job a team does of bottling him up, Gore is always a threat to break loose.

"He is probably the most patient runner in the National Football League," Robinson said. "He knows exactly when to hit hole."

Suffice it to say the Steelers are intent on extending their streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 28 games.

"We talk about it all the time," Hampton said. "We feel like our run defense is one of the best in the league and that's what we pride ourselves on. We take a whole lot of pride in not letting people get 100 yards on us."

They didn't let Tomlinson or Larry Johnson accomplish the feat last season.

Gore, who had nine 100-yard rushing games a year ago, becomes the latest back to test the Steelers' streak that is the definition of stingy.

"I know this much," Nolan said, "Frank could have three quarters of nothing and in the fourth quarter, he could light it up."

Galax Steeler
09-23-2007, 07:11 AM
I hope we continue this streak but gore is going to be a challenge.

The Duke
09-23-2007, 11:12 AM
I hope we continue this streak but gore is going to be a challenge.

Gore couldn't handle the rams defense. He won't do nothing against us. He's good, but not good enough

09-23-2007, 11:47 AM
Gore couldn't handle the rams defense. He won't do nothing against us. He's good, but not good enough

Yeah, when you think of the Rams (and my gawd why would you but for posting sake try) you dont think of defense that's for sure. That 4th-and-1 run was an exhibition in poor tackling which is something the Steeler D does not do. I'll be optimistic and say that Gore will get plenty of 1 and 2 yard runs. 27 carries for 57 yards today maybe?