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mesaSteeler
09-23-2010, 04:34 PM
With stars back, Steelers' D as innovative as ever
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/football/nfl/wires/09/23/2020.ap.fbn.steelers.unpredictable.lebeau.1st.ld.w ritethru.1069/

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Falcons and Titans didn't seem to know what was coming next from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Dick LeBeau-coached defense, or exactly the way he planned it.

After all, the Steelers themselves don't seem to know what their newly elected Hall of Famer will scheme up on the next play, the next series or the next game.

They pride themselves on their unpredictability, and it's obvious that, even at age 73, LeBeau isn't running out of ideas or innovations.

"That's why we love him so much,'' defensive end Aaron Smith said. "He gives us the best calls, puts us in the best position to make plays. He calls a great game every week.''

Every Wednesday, the Steelers eagerly show up at their practice facility to see what LeBeau has concocted for that week's unsuspecting opponent. This week, it's Tampa Bay (2-0) on the road Sunday.

LeBeau's defense appears to be playing with a sense of urgency that's uncommon so early in the season, and with good reason. Aware that how they played during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension might swing their season, the Steelers (2-0) have allowed only one touchdown in eight quarters plus an overtime.

They've forced a league-high eight turnovers. They've held two of the league's best running backs, Chris Johnson of Tennessee and Michael Turner of Atlanta, to an average of about 2 yards per carry. They've also re-established their image of a defense that plays with an aggressive edginess and a relentless physicality.

"It's fun to watch us dominate the way we are,'' said nose tackle Casey Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowl player who sat out the Steelers' 19-11 victory at Tennessee with a sore hamstring. "We're going to be as good as we let ourselves be.''

The core essentials of one of the best defenses during the NFL's salary cap era never change: Play fast, play smart, hit hard, don't get out of position, know what your teammate's doing and stay aggressive. The alignments do change, and rapidly, in a zone blitz defense that LeBeau innovated more than 20 years ago and, to this day, never stays the same.

"Every third down is something crazy,'' linebacker James Farrior said. "We're trying to confuse the quarterbacks.''

Think you've seen safety Troy Polamalu line up in every position possible, or launch himself toward a running back or quarterback from every possible angle? With Polamalu healthy again after playing only three full games last season, LeBeau is showing off more schemes than ever that feature a player he insists he is the league's most versatile.

"He just opens up the playbook to anything that you want to do,'' LeBeau said. "It's just a matter of how far off the diving board you want to go.''

LeBeau's defense seemingly peaked in 2008, when the Steelers missed by about 60 rushing yards allowed of having the first defense since the 1970 NFL merger to lead the league in the four major team statistical categories: total, rushing and passing yardage and points allowed.

A unit that has changed only one starter since then has been nearly as good this season.

Johnson, coming off 12 consecutive 100-yard games, finished with 34 yards on 16 carries. By the fourth quarter, he didn't look especially eager to get many more carries despite having an 85-yard run called back by a penalty.

"I think he had a rough day,'' Farrior said. "We had a couple of guys hit him in the side of the head. Lawrence (Timmons) had a couple of tough hits on him. I'm sure he was feeling it, and he's probably still feeling it now.''

Timmons, the only current regular who didn't start on the Super Bowl-winning team of two years ago, is playing to the level the Steelers expected of a first-round draft pick. He was credited with 15 tackles at Tennessee.

"He's all over the field. He's making everybody better,'' Farrior said. "I haven't seen anyone block him yet. ... He's playing out of his mind right now.''

Nearly everyone on the defense is playing up to expectations, a year after an admittedly down season caused in part by injuries that idled Polamalu and Smith for all but a few games. Their injuries depleted the Steelers' depth and meant there often were tired defenders on the field in the fourth quarter, when they watched five games they led turn into losses.

Linebacker James Harrison was chosen as the AFC defensive player of the week after having two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a tackle for a loss and 11 tackles. Polamalu has two sacks and he made perhaps the NFL defensive play of the year so far, deducing the snap count before leaping over the Titans' offensive linemen to sack Kerry Collins an instant after the ball touched the quarterback's hands.

"Really, though, we're two games into this and we haven't done anything yet,'' Smith said. "If we're still doing this and playing like this in November and December, that's the true test.''

fer522
09-23-2010, 04:47 PM
good read