Cover-2 helps Steelers' defense flourish
By John Harris
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Mike Tomlin said his Steelers played more Cover-2 defense than normal against Seattle. The Seahawks were held to a season-low 106 net yards passing in the Steelers' 21-0 win.
"It's what you do when you play West Coast offenses," Tomlin said. "The ball comes out extremely quickly. You know how they script, particularly their first 15 (plays). It was what the week called for."
What Tomlin didn't say was how the Steelers were also successful stopping Seattle's ground game while playing the Cover-2, which is news in itself.
"We always ran it," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "I guess ya'll looking at Coach Tomlin as a Cover-2 guy. But (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau always ran a little bit of Cover-2.
"Coach LeBeau mixes it up. I can't say what we run a lot and what we don't run a lot."
The Cover-2 is a zone defense designed to prevent big plays over the top in the passing game. Cornerbacks and linebackers play underneath and safeties play deep.
Seattle's Shaun Alexander rushed for only 25 yards. The Seahawks averaged 3.1 yards per play and finished with 144 total yards.
"When you can stop the run out of the Cover-2, it's a great coverage to play," free safety Ryan Clark said. "We can play it and hold guys like Shaun Alexander to two yards a rush."
"If you can stop the run in the Cover-2," cornerback Deshea Townsend said, "it makes your day pretty easy."
Anthony Smith, who started at safety, said the Steelers' Cover-2 has been effective against the run because "we've got corners that can come up and hit. They can stop the run and play the pass."
In the shutout against Seattle, Taylor and Townsend combined for seven tackles. Taylor also had four passes defensed and one interception.
"We play (Cover-2) a little different than other teams. It's not a passive, sit-back type thing with us," Clark said. "I think what makes it different is the attacking style players we have. We want to make plays."
Conversely, Steelers' opponents haven't produced many big pass plays this season.
There have been 15 pass plays of 20-plus yards and four pass plays of 30-plus yards.
Overall, Steelers' opponents average 9.7 yards per completion while completing 51.5 percent of their attempts.
Last season, Steelers' opponents averaged 10.6 yards per completion while connecting on 60.3 percent of their attempts.
The Steelers lead the league in total defense.
"We haven't changed a thing," Clark said of the Steelers' improved defensive play from a year ago. "We're doing the same things. We've just been playing in situations where (Cover-2) works well."