View Full Version : Secondary exposure

09-27-2010, 07:24 AM
Secondary exposure
Monday, September 27, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TAMPA, Fla. -- That Mike Tomlin and Raheem Morris both became NFL head coaches, in large part, for the way they coached the defensive backs in this very city isn't much more than coincidence, but the freshest fact from their story probably rises to the level of irony:

When they finally faced each other across the same NFL stage, Morris' secondary literally gave the game away.

If that wasn't irony, then it was certainly comedy, or did you happen to miss the wackiness of Cody Grimm, Aqib Talib, Sean Jones, and, heaven forbid, even Ronde Barber, who combined to turn a Steelers offense that hadn't scored at touchdown regulation this season into the Indianapolis Colts?

At one point in the Steelers' third consecutive win, rookie center Maurkice Pouncey even patted Barber on the head as if to say, "Don't worry, little man, we're only here for 60 minutes."

Pouncey has been in three games; Barber has been in five Pro Bowls. Barber is looking for the interception that will make him the only person in history with 40 NFL picks and 25 sacks, but Sunday, Barber looked semi-retired, which is what Hines Ward was talking to him about indirectly late in a 38-13 Steelers Bucs-kicking.

"We were just joking with him and I said to him that I wished he had retired," Ward said. "He was such a great player and he's symbolized the way they play defense in Tampa Bay for so long. It was just a respect thing."

OK, but this one had been anything but respectable from the moment fourth-string quarterback Charlie Batch sent Mike Wallace to the end zone from 46 yards out in the first quarter. Wallace turned to look for the ball, but somehow Grimm, the rookie safety standing right next to him at the time, failed to do so.

"He never even looked for the ball," said Wallace of the first of his two gimme touchdowns. "I was hoping he wouldn't turn around, because I would've had to try to take it away from him."

Grimm, the son of former Steelers assistant Russ Grimm, was starting in lieu of Tanard Jackson, who this week began serving an indefinite suspension for a second violation of the league's substance abuse policy. That news by itself likely prompted Tomlin to pass more.

"I wasn't sure," Tomlin claimed. "We knew we'd have to look there potentially, because I knew they would pack the line of scrimmage early, but I didn't feel great about it."

Maybe not, but he started to feel better when Batch's next deep ball clanked off the hands of cornerback Talib and right into Wallace's in the corner of the end zone for the 41-yard touchdown that made it 21-6.

"Charlie told me that if he saw the right coverage he was going to throw it," Wallace said, "but I didn't think he was really going to do it because [Talib] was right there."

Between Wallace's first two scores of the season came a six-play, 67-yard drive that included a 24-yard run by Batch (Ward: "I was screaming at him to get down!"); a 21-yard pass to Heath Miller at 10:26 of the second quarter for the Steelers' eighth first down (they had seven all of last Sunday); and a dazzling spin move by Rashard Mendenhall that turned the 35-year-old Barber inside out, if not upside down.

Mendenhall finished off the drive with a 3-yard run on which he went over Jones, the other safety, like a dump truck over a speed bump.

You would think that somebody would have learned by now that it's a very good idea to actually cover Ward, although no one did on his 9-yard touchdown at the end of the first half, the one that made the score 28-6 and the remaining 30 minutes an exercise in high-risk tedium.

Again it was Barber who seemed to have primary responsibility for Ward, but Ward absolved him.

"No, that's not his play," said Ward, who earlier in the half made Batch the only quarterback in NFL history to complete a pass to a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. "That's a play where Charlie looks right and then comes back to me. The linebacker, [Barrett] Ruud, he was responsible."

Heath Miller, who had lined up on Ward's side tight to the formation, ran a simple out to his left, and no one covered him, either.

"That was a typically designed red zone defense," Miller said. "They were dropping eight and sometimes in those situations, you have just keep running and be patient."

This was good advice on a day when, if you just waited a minute or two, Tampa Bay's defenders would hand you a touchdown. Morris, the one-time Tomlin defensive protege, actually punted on fourth-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 36 with his team down, 38-6, and 11:45 remaining.

I don't think he was waving the white-flag; I think he was trying to see what else his defense could screw up.