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Old 09-20-2007, 08:32 PM   #1
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Default Let it be: Tomlin not overly tinkering with Steelers defense

Let it be: Tomlin not overly tinkering with Steelers defense
By The Associated Press
Thursday, September 20, 2007


PITTSBURGH - Troy Polamalu believes new coach Mike Tomlin's best move with the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense was doing nothing.
Tomlin, brought up in the 4-3 defense while coaching Tampa Bay's defensive backs and a strong proponent of it while running Minnesota's defense last season, probably wanted to do some overhauling when Pittsburgh hired him in January.

Don't all new coaches want to make an impact immediately with their style and their scheme?

But with the personnel in place to run the 3-4 defense the Steelers have played since the early 1980s, and one of the NFL's best defensive coordinators in Dick LeBeau agreeing to remain from former coach Bill Cowher's staff, Tomlin stayed with the 3-4.

There are some variations, for sure -- at times, the Steelers have played four big down linemen with only one linebacker and six defensive backs, a different look than they've shown in the past.
Mostly, it's been what Pittsburgh's defense has been in the past, one designed to stop the run and perplex the quarterback with pass rushers coming from varying angles on every play.

That's what Polamalu has liked as the Steelers (2-0) have given up only one touchdown in two games against Cleveland and Buffalo, permitting the third-fewest yards in the league.

Not only are the Steelers playing LeBeau's defense, they're playing it the way he likes it.

"I think he has more control (over the defense)," Polamalu said Wednesday. "We are a lot more active -- we're not as conservative, we're kind of initiating what the offense needs to do, not just reacting to what they do."

Polamalu wouldn't say so, but the read-between-the-lines analogy is that Tomlin is making fewer suggestions and taking less of a role in dictating the game plan than former coach Bill Cowher did.

Like Tomlin, Cowher also was a defensive coordinator before becoming a head coach.

"I think he (Tomlin) has so much respect for coach LeBeau, rightly so, that he just said, 'Hey, do what you do best,'" Polamalu said.

Tomlin confirmed that.

"We have players here that have been acquired to fit that scheme and what they do, they do well," Tomlin said. "That's coaching to me, putting your players in a position to do well. It's no question that we have people that have continuity with the scheme. ... I have a lot of respect for coach LeBeau."

Among LeBeau's other new looks this season is moving defensive end Brett Keisel around, giving him more freedom to make plays in a defense in which the outside linebackers get much of the pass rush responsibility.

The cornerbacks have been more active as pass rushers, too, as evidenced by the fact that the Steelers' 10 sacks are divided among nine players. Last year, the Steelers had only 39 sacks all season.

With pressure on any play coming from a multitude of possible angles, inexperienced quarterbacks such as Buffalo's J.P. Losman often struggle the first time they face the Steelers. Pittsburgh gets another such quarterback Sunday in San Francisco's Alex Smith.

"He's watching film right now saying, 'What the heck are they doing?' " Foote said. "Hopefully he'll be thinking about us all week and coach LeBeau will show him something a little different."

Foote repeated that LeBeau hasn't shown the Steelers' entire defensive playbook and promised during training camp that there was more to come -- but so far, LeBeau hasn't shown it. "I know everybody is waiting on it and I'm waiting on it also," Foote said. "It's not too much different but it's a different look for the quarterback. We're waiting on coach LeBeau to run it. It's a little freaky."

Notes: Pittsburgh has allowed 444 yards in two games compared to 640 last season. The Steelers had four sacks at this time a year ago. ... Just like Bills a week ago, San Francisco will be playing in Pittsburgh for the first time in 11 years. The 49ers won their last two in Pittsburgh, in 1993 and 1996.
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"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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