View Full Version : Steelers have NFL's best defense

09-23-2010, 04:58 PM
Steelers have NFL's best defense
By James Walker

Mike Tomlin didn't understand the criticism before the season. With the Pittsburgh Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the season, football experts were writing off his team when all along he knew he had an elite defense to lean on.

Two wins later, everyone else (including the AFC North blog) is starting to come around.

"We're a little bit annoyed [about] the premature reporting of our death," Tomlin told reporters Sunday after pounding the Tennessee Titans 19-11. "We're pleased that we're 2-0, but we're not astounded by it. We expect to win."

As they head into Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0), the Steelers are proving their defense can carry the load while they await the return of Roethlisberger, who must sit two more games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

What have we learned from Pittsburgh's fast start? According to Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, the Steelers have the NFL's best defense.

Aaron Smith

A healthy Aaron Smith has paid dividends for Pittsburgh.
"I don't even know who's No. 2," Williamson said. "I think the Steelers are far and away the best defense in the league right now."

The AFC North blog agrees, and here are seven reasons:

1. Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith are back

Skinny: Over the years, the Steelers' defense hasn't been the same when Polamalu and/or Smith are out of the lineup. Polamalu missed 12 games with a knee injury in 2009 and Smith missed 11 games with a torn rotator cuff. Both players are healthy and playing well.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson: "They are both Pro Bowl players. Smith is about the best 3-4 defensive end I can remember, and he's been playing great. Smith is the prototype for Pittsburgh's defense. He is so fundamentally sound, so powerful and such a good run-stopper that he demands a lot of double-teams. It's easy to overlook what he brings, but it will be foolish to overlook it. Troy Polamalu is the wild card. He's Dick LeBeau's favorite little gadget to play with. When he's not there, the Steelers take half of the playbook and throw it away. With him, they can expand it like no other defense in the league."

2. Steelers force turnovers

Skinny: Pittsburgh is sixth in the league in yards allowed and leads the league in turnovers with eight. Many good defenses get stops, but no team creates havoc like the Steelers. Last week, Pittsburgh had four fumbles and three interceptions and held Chris Johnson to 34 yards rushing. The outstanding play of the defense stands in contrast to the poor play of the offense, which ranks 31st.

("no team creates havoc like the Steelers" Havoc, I like that. Every Sunday I expect Dick LeBeau to "Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war!" Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, William Shakespeare, - mesa)

Scouts Inc.: "The Steelers stress run defense so much that they make teams one-dimensional very, very quickly. It seems like Chris Johnson was just going through the motions in the second half, and the same with Atlanta's Michael Turner in Week 1. Opponents realize they're beating their heads into the ground, then LeBeau starts dialing up blitzes when he knows you have to throw. That's when it gets ugly. That's when the quarterback takes a lot of hits and turnovers happen."

3. LeBeau is the NFL's best defensive coordinator

Skinny: LeBeau was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year as a defensive back for the Detroit Lions. But his overall contribution to the NFL as a player and coach will be his lasting legacy. LeBeau's invention of the zone blitz -- see Ron Jaworski's book excerpt here (see below - mesa) has revolutionized the way teams play defense. Although other teams now use zone-blitz principles, no team does it better than Pittsburgh.

Dick LeBeau

Dick LeBeau is the mastermind behind the Pittsburgh Steelers' zone-blitz scheme.

Scouts Inc.: "The consistency year after year is just amazing. [Pittsburgh's defense ranked No. 5, No. 1, No. 1, No. 9 and No. 4 the past five years.] LeBeau obviously has good players. But they play very hard for him and he maximizes all of their abilities. As a coaching staff, I think they're exceptional at bringing players in to fit the scheme."

4. Championship experience

Skinny: The Steelers have an older defense with a lot of experience. Every defensive starter in Pittsburgh has a Super Bowl ring. Several -- such as Polamalu, Smith, Casey Hampton, James Farrior and Brett Keisel -- have two rings. This creates confidence when the big moment arrives.

Scouts Inc.: "I think it's huge. There are people who will say the opposite, and detractors will say they're too old. They are one of the older defenses around, but it's kind of a generational thing. There's a new generation of Steeler defenders growing up right now --- Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Ziggy Hood -- guys that have only been in the league a few years. I think experience goes a long way if you have depth."

5. Best OLB combination in the NFL

Skinny: A few teams have a Pro Bowl outside linebacker. But the Steelers have two: James Harrison and Woodley. That makes it incredibly difficult for opponents. They have combined for five sacks in two games. Harrison (three sacks) and Woodley (two sacks) also are great at setting the edge against the run, which is why you rarely see running backs get huge gains outside against Pittsburgh.

Scouts Inc.: "The Steelers recognize that the defense doesn't work without great outside linebackers. The most important components are a stud, run-stuffing nose tackle and pressure off the edge. The defensive line is not going to rush the passer; that's not their job. So those edge rushers have to be special, and year after year in Pittsburgh they are."

6. Emergence of linebacker Lawrence Timmons

Skinny: Timmons waited two years to get significant playing time in Pittsburgh. Then, in his third season, he had his ups and downs as a full-time starter. But Timmons is coming into his own in 2010, leading the Steelers with 26 tackles in two games.

Scouts Inc.: "He's a rare, physical specimen. Timmons is the prototype run-and-hit linebacker. Honestly, I think he's more like Derrick Brooks than a 3-4 inside linebacker. Timmons is explosive and has size, strength and speed. He changes directions well and has everything you want physically. I've been saying all offseason that this guy is ready for the huge breakout season. Timmons was only a one-year starter at Florida State. He was behind Ernie Sims and didn't play very much when he came out as a junior. He's still very young and maturing physically. But now he's becoming LeBeau's second-level Troy Polamalu. LeBeau can do anything with him, whether it's spy on Vince Young, blitz like crazy. He's great in pursuit."

7. Quality depth

Skinny: Linebacker Larry Foote, a starter for Pittsburgh's championship team in 2005, is now a backup. Without Hampton last week, backup nose tackle Chris Hoke helped the Steelers contain Johnson. Pittsburgh also has Hood, a 2009 first-round draft pick, rotating snaps on the defensive line.

Scouts Inc.: "You can't just play Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel every snap of the season and expect them to be real productive in the playoffs. You have to rotate guys in and have that depth. The interesting thing is injuries will happen. So teams have more depth now than they will a month from now or two months from now. But it is very important."

Final words

There are other great defenses -- the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and New York Jets belong in that category. But no team has all the ingredients Pittsburgh's defense has.

09-23-2010, 05:02 PM
The above article refers to a book excerpt Here it is. - mesa
Dick LeBeau and the Zone Blitz
By Ron Jaworski

Dick LeBeau believed that his best chance to stop opponents was to create the illusion of pressure.
Editor's Note: The following is the fourth in a series of excerpts from Ron Jaworski's book, "The Games That Changed the Game: The Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays."

Dick LeBeau is a man of many talents. He can repair wristwatches, play guitar, and has a photographic memory. He also developed what I believe is the most important and long-lasting defensive concept the NFL has seen in the past two decades: the Zone blitz. And I'm in good company because Patriots coach Bill Belichick feels the same way: "To me, LeBeau's place in history is secure as creator of the Zone blitz. The fact that he not only created it but hasn't really ever had to modify it is incredible. I can't find anything else in football to compare it with."

In its simplest terms, the Zone blitz is a flexible defensive set designed to bewilder quarterbacks and their blockers. Its main premise is to create doubt for the offense in identifying who's rushing and who's in coverage. It's executed by trading off the conventional rush and coverage responsibilities of the defense. On any play, there is the potential for one defender to swap his role with another.
The Games That Changed The Game

The Games That Changed the Game Ron Jaworski's new book (available Oct. 5) delves into the NFL's biggest games and most influential coaches, taking an in-depth look at seven men who exhibited both creativity and courage in bucking established football strategies. To order this innovative book, check out:

This is often called "personnel exchange," and here's how it works: When the ball is snapped, designated defensive linemen can drop into coverage instead of rushing the passer, while selected linebackers or defensive backs switch from their traditional coverage responsibilities to apply pocket pressure. The hoped-for result is mass confusion for the offensive linemen.

Ultimately, the main goal is to impact the quarterback's progressions and delay what he's reading across the line. Obviously, defenses can vary who they send and drop off on every snap. A nose tackle could rush on one play, then slip into coverage on the next. Safeties can blitz two times in a row and then play a deep zone. The combinations are limitless, making it extremely tough for offenses to sort through all the possibilities as to who is rushing and who is covering.

Just think about it: If defensive linemen are dropping into coverage, then it's a sure thing they're not going to be playing man-to-man. They can't. Those guys are simply too big and slow to stay with NFL-caliber receivers. So the coverage of this defense must be zone based. In the mid to late 1980s, this was a real departure from the prevailing pressure concepts of that era. Fortunately Sam Wyche, Cincinnati's new head coach, was receptive to fresh ideas, no matter how bizarre they might have seemed at first.

After another year of continuous discussion and planning, LeBeau had his new system drawn up and ready to present to the team. "These concepts were hard," said Wyche. "You were asking players to do things at their position they'd never done before." But after more than a decade as an NFL assistant, LeBeau had finally gotten a coordinator's job, and he didn't want to blow his chance. "I will always be grateful to Sam for what he did," he said. "I came to him with these ideas, and a lot of other people would have shown me the door. I don't think there were many coaches who would have agreed to devote significant practice time to prepare our defense in this new style of attack. We took some wrong turns and had some pretty ugly looking defenses sometimes. But it was all part of the process to try and decide how far off the diving board we could go."

We want to trick them with a guy they're not figuring on coming, or somebody who shows up in a place you'd never expect him to be. That's the concept in a nutshell: You hold them by the nose, then sneak around and kick them in the tail-- just like General Patton used to say."
--Dick LeBeau (Actually I think the quote is "kick them in the a*s" - mesa)

Innovations come about as a reaction to what people on the other side of the ball are trying. The creative timing and rhythm-based pass offenses of Don Coryell and Bill Walsh mandated a response from thinkers like Dick LeBeau. "We had to do something," said Dick. "They changed the pass protection rules to help offensive linemen. And they moved the hash marks into the middle of the field. That meant the sideline was now a long way away, opening the passing game even more. I've always said that the sideline is a defender's best friend— it's never missed a tackle yet. That 'friend' wasn't there much to help my people anymore."

With so many of the game's elements tilted in the offense's favor, LeBeau believed that his best chance to stop opponents lay in emphasizing deception. Since defenses weren't rushing more than the offense could block, LeBeau had to create the illusion of pressure. He wanted to force offensive linemen and quarterbacks to react to things that weren't actually going to happen. "With the old pressures, quarterbacks kind of knew where to go with the ball," Dick explained. "As soon as a defense would show one particular guy rushing, a receiver would break off his route accordingly, and the quarterback would get the ball out to him. So I'm thinking it would be nice to trap the quarterback and make him think a certain kind of pressure is coming early in the down. Then as things progress later in the down, we actually have an entirely different look. We want to trick them with a guy they're not figuring on coming, or somebody who shows up in a place you'd never expect him to be. That's the concept in a nutshell: You hold them by the nose, then sneak around and kick them in the tail— just like General Patton used to say."

Chargers coach Sid Gillman once asked a college math professor to help him apply geometry to determine where his receivers needed to be in San Diego's pass offense. Dick LeBeau is so intelligent that he calculated his defenders' angles all by himself! "It just dawned on me that there's a geometric concept to football," he explained.

"The game is played on a rectangle, and within that rectangle, the offensive players fit into multiple levels that force opponents to defend the whole field. Offenses were literally creating squares and triangles with their routes. I thought it might be a good idea to match those shapes with squares and triangles of my own. I wanted to put my people in areas where the offense was sending its players."

Jerry Rice

Dick LeBeau had a scheme to neutralize Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIII, but the Bengals defense couldn't execute when it mattered most.

That produced the second component that made LeBeau's strategy so brilliant: the aggressiveness of its coverage. The Bengals, and later the Steelers, didn't just sit back passively, as in traditional zones. Theirs was a proactive matchup zone incorporating man-to-man concepts. It was tailor-made to compete against an offense's combination routes: routes determined by both the location and distribution of receivers; how many receivers are aligned on each side of the formation; and whether they're wideouts, tight ends, or running backs.

LeBeau didn't school his players to defend specific areas. They did cover a receiver coming into their space, but they had to know which one it was before it happened. And they needed to know what route was coming, then try to break it up. As the defender moved to the ball, he had to take what LeBeau called the "intercept angle."

It was here where LeBeau was especially unpredictable. Dick has always believed that you had to have one wild card in your defense-- one guy who acts purely on his own instincts. This makes the Zone blitz even harder to contain, because the improvising player can pop up anywhere at anytime. In Cincinnati, it was David Fulcher, the 240-pound safety. He was violating the tendencies of LeBeau's defense, which is exactly what Dick wanted from him. Fulcher's massive size kept him from being a top cover guy, but that same bulk was a real asset when he played near the line of scrimmage as a run stopper or blitzer. And that flexibility allowed LeBeau to blitz other players from odd angles or to crowd the middle against quick slants and hook patterns.

For Cincinnati, the Zone blitz's finest moment came in Super Bowl XXIII. Through three quarters, the Bengals had held Bill Walsh's powerful 49ers offense to a pair of field goals and still led 16-13 in the final minutes. "Up till then, we'd played pretty aggressively against them," Wyche bragged. "The main reason we were ahead late in that game was LeBeau's defense. The one thing I think we could have done differently was not go to the prevent defense so much on the last drive."

Wilcots shakes his head when he thinks about how close the Bengals came to winning a world championship. "We were kicking their ass," he said. "They couldn't run on us, couldn't throw. And on that final drive, we had them in a second-and-twenty. This was the pivotal play of the game. We had Jerry Rice doubled from the outside corner, with the safety rotating down. If we'd played it right, we would have had a pick. But after the snap, [cornerback] Ray Horton collided with Fulcher and [cornerback] Eric Thomas. Three Bengals got tangled up. Rice makes the catch and goes streaking down the field for twenty-seven yards. At that point, I knew we weren't going to win. And what hurts most is that LeBeau called the perfect play! We had them right where we wanted them! Dick's call was on the money; we should have picked it off and maybe even run it in for a score. Instead [San Francisco wide receiver] John Taylor catches the winning touchdown pass two plays later. If we'd just done what we were supposed to do, I'd have a Super Bowl ring on my finger right now."

__________________________________________________ ___________

From the book, "THE GAMES THAT CHANGED THE GAME: THE EVOLUTION OF THE NFL IN SEVEN SUNDAYS" by Ron Jaworski, with Greg Cosell and David Plaut. Copyright (c) 2010 by Ron Jaworski. Reprinted by arrangement with ESPN Books, an imprint of ESPN, Inc., New York and Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

09-23-2010, 07:08 PM
Good stuff mesa.:thumbsup:

09-23-2010, 07:34 PM

09-23-2010, 08:20 PM
Awesome read!

09-23-2010, 08:38 PM
Personally I think Aaron smith, and Casey Hampton are overrated because they don't put up great stats. Speaking of which, when has Troy ever lead the league in interceptions? He's overrated too!


09-23-2010, 09:53 PM

Here's another measuring stick that says' they're the best.

Fire Arians
09-23-2010, 11:03 PM
Personally I think Aaron smith, and Casey Hampton are overrated because they don't put up great stats. Speaking of which, when has Troy ever lead the league in interceptions? He's overrated too!


he just might this year ;)

09-24-2010, 12:56 AM
Great read. I hope that the organization is taking serious notes and grooming an heir apparent for the great Dick LeBeau.

09-24-2010, 01:09 AM
people shouldn't be surprised. it's the exact same defense from 2008. a little older, but maybe a little better with the emergence of Timmons. they would have done great things last year as well had Polamalu and Smith not gotten hurt. our pass D would have still suffered with Gay starting, but there's no way we blow all those late leads with Polamalu and Smith in there. we didn't lose a game by more than 8 points all season.

09-24-2010, 03:18 AM
Similar commentary from PFW (http://www.profootballweekly.com/2010/09/22/defense-leads-way-for-steelers):


Defense Leads the Way for Steelers
Posted Sept. 22, 2010 @ 7:35 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

The Steelers ended the preseason down two quarterbacks and down toward the bottom of the AFC North pecking order in the eyes of some observers.

Today, they are all alone atop the division and they are still down two quarterbacks.

Yes, we have come to praise the Steelers' defense, which has saved the day as Pittsburgh tries to slug its way through a four-game stretch without QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is serving a suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy.

The Steelers have not scored an offensive touchdown in regulation time this season, but their defense has allowed only one, and that came with a 16-point lead and less than a minute left at Tennessee, which had long lost its best chance to win.

For the second straight week, the Steelers' shut down the opposition's running game. They held vaunted Titans RB Chris Johnson to 34 rushing yards on 16 carries. Also, Johnson fumbled once, setting up a Pittsburgh field goal. (A long TD run by Johnson was nullified by a holding penalty.) QB Vince Young struggled so much that he was pulled for Kerry Collins. Overall, the Steelers' defense forced six of Tennessee's seven turnovers on the game.

Johnson's fumble came when he was hit by RILB Lawrence Timmons, who is emerging as an all-around star in his fourth season and leads the AFC with 26 tackles. Pro Bowl ROLB James Harrison, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles of his own vs. the Titans, recovered one of the fumbles. If it seems that Harrison (20 tackles) has been all over the field in these first two weeks, you would be correct. The 2008 PFW/PFWA Defensive Player of the Year could be on his way to his finest season yet.

On the back end of the Steelers' defense, SS Troy Polamalu once again made a major impact, intercepting a pass for a second consecutive game. He also notched three tackles for loss, the most memorable coming when he leaped over the Titans' line to tackle QB Kerry Collins for a one-yard loss late in the game. There is no doubt that Polamalu's return to the lineup after missing most of last season with a knee injury has solidified the secondary. Instinctive and fast, he is an offense's worst nightmare.

The Steelers needed their defense to be extraordinary at Tennessee with the offense gaining only 127 yards. QB Dennis Dixon, who showed promise in the Week One win vs. Atlanta, was lost to a knee injury that reportedly could keep him out multiple weeks, meaning either Charlie Batch or newly re-signed Byron Leftwich could start Sunday at Tampa Bay.

A victory would put the Steelers 3-0 heading into an Oct. 3 showdown vs. Baltimore. Then comes the bye week, when this strong, star-laden defense gets a needed rest. It has done much more than its share thus far.

09-24-2010, 08:06 PM
I think that this defense needs their own nickname, they have been mostly dominate with the same core players this past decade and should be credited with a historic nickname, especially if this years D keeps it up. 30+ years later the Steel Curtain is still recognized as an iconic defense. Any suggestions? Killer Bees 1st came to my mind, but then found out it has been used in the past.

09-24-2010, 09:27 PM
its all about coach lebeaus schemes and our playmakers and we have plenty of them. troy p. - check
james harrisson check , lamar woodley check , lawrence timmons check. combine the playmakers with our unsung heroes along the d-line and you have some scary nightmares for all opposing offenses !!!

09-25-2010, 02:36 PM
Personally I think Aaron smith, and Casey Hampton are overrated because they don't put up great stats. Speaking of which, when has Troy ever lead the league in interceptions? He's overrated too!

with those guys is not about the stats, they just make everybody arround them better and we saw that last year, and so for you to say they're overrated..... you are nuts coach are you sure you are not related to BA?
we are gonna have to fire you both :rofl: :rofl:

09-25-2010, 05:36 PM
B-Mac is back, Foote can get Farrior some rest during games which is huge since Farrior is 35 and his legs will be much fresher the last half of the season. Timmons is healthy. 43 is healthy. Smith is healthy. Hood is contributing. We have the best two outside LBs in the league.

Add that all together and you have a Super Bowl ring in 5 months. Ben coming back will just cement some touch downs instead of settling for 3 pointers.

7 will be heaven kids put money on it if the D stays healthy!