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Hawaii 5-0 11-06-2012 10:30 PM

Steelers defensive performance reminiscent of seasons past
Steelers defensive performance reminiscent of seasons past

By Alan Robinson
Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis breaks up a first-quarter pass intended for the Giants' Hakeem Nicks on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Steelers defense yards per game averages since 2005:

2008 — 237.2 *

2012 — 262.6 *

2007 — 266.4 *

2011 — 271.8 *

2010 — 276.8

2005 — 284.0

2006 — 300.3

2009 — 305.3

* Leads NFL

This is the Steelers defense everyone expects, yet it isn’t.

The Steelers are No. 1 overall and tops against the pass, No. 7 against the run and No. 9 in fewest points allowed — familiar territory for a defense that has led the NFL three of the past five seasons. But to James Harrison, this defense has a different feel.

The stars aren’t the stars any longer, partly due to injuries to Harrison and the still-sidelined Troy Polamalu. The schematics are changing on a weekly basis because of the rapid evolution in the passing game. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has never needed to be more creative or constantly adaptive.

Still, the Super Bowl champion Giants couldn’t net a single positive yard in the fourth quarter Sunday and managed only 182 yards in all. It was the second time in three games a Steelers opponent was kept below 190 yards, something the rest of the NFL’s other 31 defenses have done only seven times.

“I don’t think we’re at that (previous) level — this (Giants) game was one situation where we were able to come through and do that, but we still have a long road to go to get to where we want to be with our alignment, our assignment keys and so forth,” Harrison said. “We’re taking steps in the right direction, but we still made a lot of mistakes and left plays out there we could have made.”

The sacks (14) and takeaways (8) aren’t there yet halfway into the season, yet the Steelers (5-3) are better statistically than they were a season ago.

“I just think that we’re growing and doing it better,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “We’re not doing anything differently. We’ve had some young guys playing situational football, like (nickel back) Cortez Allen, and he’s starting to play a lot better now. So there’s nothing different schematically, but the packages are bigger now than they were earlier in the year.”

One difference maker is outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who forced a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in the fourth quarter alone as the Steelers rallied from 10 points down to beat the Giants, 24-20, their biggest win in more than a year. Only a few weeks ago, a finding-its-way defense couldn’t get off the field in the fourth quarter while losing leads to the Broncos, Raiders and Titans.

“I don’t think we ever went away, truth be told,” Woodley said. “We’re all just doing what we are supposed to do. We’re just playing like the Steelers play football. We’re just happy to get some things together.”

Woodley has been bothered by a troublesome hamstring injury but is ranked as the league’s No. 3 outside linebacker performance-wise, ahead of Clay Matthews.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who has significantly upgraded his play despite being called twice Sunday for pass interference, allowed one catch for 10 yards while being targeted five times.

“The arrow’s been pointing up with Keenan,” Tomlin said. “He’s been consistently challenging and competing on just about every throw. … He’s a big reason why we’ve been hot in the back end in recent weeks.”

Ryan Clark, arguably the Steelers’ defensive MVP to date, grades out as one of the NFL’s highest-ranked defensive backs, even as he and Will Allen — subbing for Polamalu — alternate between free and strong safety.

Despite minimal production from the defensive line — Ziggy Hood, for instance, has seven tackles on 149 snaps — the defense is playing with visibly more confidence than before.

“I think Larry Foote said it best: ‘This team looks kind of familiar,’ ” Ike Taylor said on TribLive Radio. “It’s a no-nonsense offense and defense, the way we’re closing games out, and we’re finally getting off the field on third down. You’re finally seeing that physical style of play.”

Hawaii 5-0 11-07-2012 01:06 AM

Re: ]Steelers defensive performance reminiscent of seasons past
Improving Steelers defense could get better

By F. Dale Lolley

After beating the defending Super Bowl champions on the road, the Steelers head into the second half of the schedule with a critical four-game stretch that could make or break this season.

Following next Monday night’s game at Heinz Field against Kansas City, the Steelers play three consecutive AFC North games, including a home-and-away series with Baltimore.

Considering the Steelers (5-3) currently sit one game behind Baltimore (6-2) in the standings, it’s not a stretch to say those two games could decide the division championship.

First, the Steelers have to take care of business against the Chiefs (1-7), a team averaging just 16.6 points per game, 30th in the league.

For a surging Pittsburgh defense it could be just the right time to get All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu back in the lineup.

Polamalu played in the Steelers’ opener at Denver before sitting out the next two weeks with a strained calf. He returned to play in Pittsburgh’s 16-14 win Oct. 7, but left in the first half after aggravating the calf injury.

The Steelers had targeted the game against the Chiefs as a possible return date for Polamalu, but at the least should have him back on the field for a Nov. 18 meeting at Heinz Field against Baltimore.

After holding the Giants to 182 yards in a 24-20 victory Sunday, the Steelers adding another piece to the defensive puzzle could be a scary proposition for opposing offenses.

Now leading the league in total defense, allowing 262.6 yards per game and having closed out their last three opponents in the fourth quarter, the Steelers’ defense appears to be back on track after a slow start.

“I don’t think we ever went anywhere, truth be told,” said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. “We’re all just doing what we are supposed to do. We’re just playing Steeler football. We’re just happy to get some things together.”

After allowing nine fourthquarter scoring drives in their first five games, the Steelers have given up just one in their last three games – a field goal to Washington in a 27-12 blowout. Not coincidentally, the Steelers have won all three of those games.

“We’re starting to play together as a team, which is what it takes to beat good teams,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “We’re starting to get better.”

That was never more apparent than against a Giants’ offense that entered Sunday’s game averaging nearly 400 yards and more than 29 points per game.

Quarterback Eli Manning is considered one of the best fourth-quarter quarterbacks in the NFL, having led the Giants from behind to wins in nine games since the start of the 2011 season.

Against the Steelers Sunday, the Giants had three possessions in the fourth quarter. They resulted in nine offensive plays and three punts. Manning, who leads the NFL with 2,446 passing yards, finished 10 of 24 passing for 125 yards, his lowest total since throwing for 123 yards in a 2008 loss against Philadelphia.

“ Sometimes, you have those games, and obviously they’re a good defense,” said Manning. “They’re talented and they do a great job with the defense mixing up the looks.”

The Steelers could get even better with Polamalu’s return. “We’re finishing the game now,” said Woodley, who had a sack-strip of Manning to end the Giants’ final possession. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing.

“I expect it all the time. Sometimes we put ourselves in bad situations, but we keep the game close.”

Odds and end zones

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes against the Giants and now has 201 in his career. ... The victory was the 60th for head coach Mike Tomlin. He tied Chuck Knox as the fourth-fastest coach to reach 60 wins in 88 games behind George Siefert (75), Joe Gibbs (84) and Mike Ditka (85). ... The Steelers are 3-0 against NFC teams this season. They are the only AFC team that is unbeaten against the NFC.

sluggermatt15 11-10-2012 10:16 AM

Re: ]Steelers defensive performance reminiscent of seasons past
I was so impressed with the defense's performance on Sunday. They did just about everything right - the D shut down Eli Manning (who has been HOT as of late), the Giants running game, and limited the big plays. I was a little concerned with some of the big passes the team gave up, but that's the Giants passing attack, they are full of dangerous threats. You can't really shut down Victor Cruz. He'll get his, and he did on Sunday, but the Steelers totally stopped Nicks. Great play by the secondary.

I just hope this is a preview of what has yet to come. No doubt the team is playing their best football of the season. Let's hope they continue to beat the good teams and make a statement!

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