Steeler CBs play role in stopping the run
Saturday, September 22, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Bryant McFadden said there are three commandments for a cornerback in Dick LeBeau's defense: No big plays, be sure to tackle after a catch, don't play with your back to the ball.
McFadden left out another task of high priority: Stop the run.
"That's the fourth thing," said McFadden, a No. 2 draft choice in 2005 and the nickel back in the Steelers defense. "Whenever we see and recognize the run, he expects us to be there just as fast as anybody else. That comes with the territory. I don't know how other teams feel about corners making tackles against the run, but, here, he emphasized that a lot."
The cornerbacks have been an active part in helping the Steelers' defense run its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 27 consecutive games, dating to the 2005 season. Each starting cornerback -- Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend -- has 12 tackles in two games, trailing only inside linebacker James Farrior (17) for most on the team.
And it's not as though Taylor and Townsend are having to make a lot of tackles in the secondary. Opposing quarterbacks have completed barely half their throws (32 of 63) against the Steelers and haven't completed a pass longer than 30 yards.
A big reason: The Steelers have 10 sacks -- tied for league-high with the Minnesota Vikings -- and registered 22 quarterback hurries/pressures in two games. With little time to throw, quarterbacks haven't been able to wait for receivers to come open.
"Sometimes it's good coverage and we get sacks; sometimes it's great pressure and we get sacks," Townsend said. "Nobody really cares what makes the coverage good or what makes the sacks. It's all one defense."
"It goes hand in hand, it's 50-50," said Taylor, the only player on the team with one sack and one interception. "If you have a good pass rush putting pressure on the quarterback, the corner might sit on a route or jump a route, knowing the rush is going to be there. At the same time, if the coverage is good, a pass rush might not have the timing but because its good coverage they get a coverage sack. It's good to have both."
Whatever the formula, the Steelers (2-0) have done a good job shutting down the run and the pass in the first two games.
Heading into tomorrow's 1 p.m. game against the San Francisco 49ers (2-0), another team that has struggled to complete long passes, the Steelers have allowed an average of 5.9 yards per pass attempt, second lowest among 32 NFL teams.
San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith, a No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has averaged just 5.25 yards per attempt, lowest among all NFL starters. What's more, he has been sacked seven times in two games, tied for second most in the National Football Conference.
"As long as they don't give the quarterback time to sit back there and read things and take shots, and as long as we can hold up the back end by not letting anything get over our heads, that's when we start being successful," Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu said.
With a franchise that can boast three Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana and Steve Young), Smith became the first quarterback in team history to take every snap in a season in 2006. He attempted 442 passes, completed 257 for 2,890 yards and 16 touchdowns. Better yet, 34 of his completions were for 20 or more yards, more than the double the amount from his rookie season (13).
On draft day, the 49ers tried to bolster their receiving corps by trading a fourth-round pick with Seattle to acquire Jackson, a player the Steelers faced in Super Bowl XL.
To illustrate how the Steelers have changed since then, they assigned Taylor to follow Jackson all over the field in the Super Bowl. After Taylor had a bad game against Denver's Javon Walker last season, they abandoned the practice and have not flip-flopped their corners since.
Coach Mike Tomlin has indicated he does not like to "shadow" another team's top receivers, saying it is difficult on the other cornerback who also has to shift sides of the field.
"The thing about their defense is that no one really stands out because they are all playing tough," Smith said. "They all make plays. They play really fast and they know what they're doing. They execute and it shows up on film."
And on the field. At least, so far.