LeBeau's linebackers keep opposing QBs guessing
Dick LeBeau is doing more than moving safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Brett Keisel all over the field, making it difficult for offenses to find them.
Nobody seems to be able to locate inside linebacker James Farrior, either.
At least, not before he gets to the quarterback.
"You ever watch the Discovery Channel, with those little cheetahs waiting on their prey?" asked outside linebacker Clark Haggans. "They kind of creep and creep, just like a snake in the woods, and -- BAM! -- at the last second they attack."
It is not very often that inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense or middle linebackers in a 4-3 defense get to register sacks. But on a team that relies on its outside linebackers to get to the quarterback, it is Farrior who is tied for the American Football Conference lead with four sacks with Denver's Elvis Dumervil.
Farrior had two more sacks against the Seattle Seahawks and has already tied his single-season high. The Steelers asked the Elias Sports Bureau to credit him an extra half-sack against the Seahawks on a play in which Farrior shared a sack with safety Tyrone Carter, believing Farrior should have been credited with a full sack.
That would have made Farrior the sole AFC leader. But, after studying the play, Elias turned down the request.
"They've been putting me on the edge and letting me rush on third down," Farrior said. "I'll start in the middle sometimes, sometimes I line up out there and I'm coming off the end. It just gives the offense a different look, try to switch it up a little bit.
"It's not a new look. It's just working out that way, based on what the offense is giving us. There's a little bit of luck involved in that."
Farrior said all his sacks have come from the outside, even if he lines in the middle and runs to the inside of Haggans or James Harrison, the right outside linebacker.
It is just another wrinkle in LeBeau's defense, designed to keep quarterbacks guessing which player is coming from what direction. It is one of the reasons the Steelers are tied for the NFL lead with 17 sacks.
"He's very lucky because he's running free off the edge and everybody else gets murdered running up in the line," Haggans said, joking. "He kind of creeps around the side. He's the clean-up guy. Wherever there's a little gap or a hole he needs to fill, he does it."
Since 1992, when this version of the 3-4 defense was installed under Bill Cowher, an outside linebacker had led the team in sacks 12 times. An inside linebacker has never led the team in sacks since the statistic began being recorded in 1972.
But it's not just the Steelers. Of the 39 NFL players with more than two sacks, 10 are linebackers. But only two of those -- Farrior and Chicago's Brian Urlacher (3) -- are inside or middle linebackers.
"It's more conventional because you have guys lining up on the edge," said Haggans, who is second on the team with 3.5 sacks. "But they don't let a lot of guys on the edge do stuff in the middle I think coach LeBeau is just trying to utilize him more."
Farrior said he doesn't think he is blitzing more. Rather, he said the holes are opening for him to get to the quarterback because he's coming from different angles.
"The whole defensive line is doing a good job of eating up blocks and putting us in situations where we're one-on-one with the running back or tight end," Farrior said. "We're supposed to win that battle every time."
But it isn't just sacks by a 32-year-old inside linebacker that are on the rise. After five weeks, NFL linebackers have recorded 36 interceptions, putting them on pace for the highest number in 26 years.
Farrior, though, is not part of that trend. He does not have an interception this season and has just eight in his 11-year career.
"I like interceptions better than sacks," Farrior said. "I just can't hold onto the ball."