Ed Bouchette On the Steelers: Cut blocking
Sunday, October 21, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every time the Denver Broncos play a game, at least against a team outside their own division, the topic of cut blocking comes up.
A cut block occurs below the knees and is legal if it happens in the front or -- near the line of scrimmage between the tackles -- from the side.
Denver long has used those kinds of blocks by their offensive linemen, perfected when Alex Gibbs was line coach from 1995 through 2003 and continued under current Broncos line coach Rick Denison.
The block is illegal if it comes from behind a defender or if the cut becomes a "chop" block -- if a player is engaged in a block by one lineman and another cuts his legs out.
The list of wounded defensive linemen playing against Denver is long and controversial.
Last season, Denver center Tom Nalen was fined $25,000 for illegally cutting San Diego defender Igor Olshanksy. Tackle Matt Lepsis was fined $15,000 in 2001 for ending the season of San Diego's Maa Tanuvasa, who had a broken ankle. Offensive tackle George Foster knocked two players out for the season in 2004 with cut blocks -- Cincinnati's Tony Williams and Jacksonville's Paul Spicer.
Even Bill Cowher publicly criticized Denver's technique after those plays at one of his weekly press conferences in 2004, saying the Broncos should "do unto others as you want them to do onto you.''
That prompted Denver coach Mike Shanahan to invite reporters in to a film session in which he showed other teams' players using the cut block, including Steelers guard Alan Faneca.
Steelers defensive linemen spent a lot of time this week answering questions about the tactic -- which often is discussed at NFL meetings but never banned. To a man, they said they cannot worry about it.
The blocking scheme has helped Denver produce a long list of 1,000-yard rushers. Since the 1995 season, when Gibbs began his second turn as Denver's line coach, the Broncos have had a 1,000-yard rusher every season but in 2001, and six different players have done it. Travis Henry, with 498 yards, will be well on his way to becoming the seventh if he is not suspended for a drug violation.
With all that success, the question is not so much why Denver does it but why more teams do not?
One reason is it has to be taught and ingrained, as it has in Denver for so long. The Steelers' famed trap blocking scheme worked under Chuck Noll but others rarely used it.
There's another reason.
"If you don't do it right, you get whooped,'' said Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith.
An offensive lineman has to lunge at the lower legs and if he misses, he's laying on the ground, of no use.
"You're going down and you're not getting up and blocking anybody else,'' Smith said. "If you try to cut me and miss, then I'm running free.''
Smith, of course, would like to see the block eliminated, but he grudgingly sees its advantage.
"I'd love it if it were illegal. Sometimes when you can't block somebody there's no other way to engage him. If you can't get a guy blocked, then try cutting him. It's a good strategy on their part, it's effective. It makes it difficult to play -- you're basically trying to neutralize the front guys by getting them on the ground."
The Haggans influence
Rookie linebacker LaMarr Woodley tied for the team lead with two sacks after three games and has not been seen on defense in the past two.
One reason for that is the play of Clark Haggans, who has 31/2 sacks and already surpassed his total of the entire 2006 season with nine quarterback pressures.
Woodley, though, likely will see plenty of time tonight in Denver, as will many of the backup defensive linemen. Recovery time in high altitude is important so the Steelers plan to substitute freely on defense tonight.
That was a lead balloon, not a trial balloon NFL commissioner Roger Goodell launched in Phoenix this week when he suggested a possible Super Bowl to be played in London.
"There's a great deal of interest in having a Super Bowl in London," Goodell said Monday. "We'll be looking at that."
The idea is as popular as Michael Vick at the New York Kennel Club.
It's one thing to export some preseason games overseas, it's even a stretch to play a regular season game in London, as the Giants and Dolphins will do next week.
But putting a Super Bowl in London? They won't even play one in Los Angeles anymore because that city does not have a team. Oh, fans would still watch it on television and if the game between the Dolphins and Giants sold out in 60 minutes or whatever, the Super Bowl in Wembley Stadium would sell quicker and in the more expensive Euros or whatever passes as legal tender in England these days.
It is all about the money, and the NFL has been trying to crack the European market for years. Apparently, the demise of NFL Europe or NFL Europa or the World League hasn't convinced them that it's not happening.
Think of football in Europe as soccer in America. A niche sport that will never make it big no matter how hard people try to shove one or the other down the citizens' throats.
That quick sellout by the Giants and Dolphins in London, though, has gotten the attention of the NFL, which has committed to playing one regular season game in London every year. What's to stop a team that may be struggling in a small market here -- Jacksonville comes to mind -- to think of moving over there? It's a six-hour flight from the East Coast, one less than an East Coast team flying to California or Seattle.
Good luck, though, trying to lure free agents.
It's all about the money
Don't look for the Steelers to put the franchise tag on Alan Faneca after the season, nor negotiate a new contract for him.
The Steelers have used the franchise tag only on a few occasions when they believed the player wanted to stay with them and wanted to sign a long-term contract. The most recent example was linebacker Jason Gildon, who signed a long-term deal within days after he was franchised.
They could do it, and Faneca acknowledged as much, but they won't. The franchise tag would keep Faneca under contract for one more season. But they would have to pay him a bundle to do so. This year, putting a franchise tag on an offensive lineman costs $9,556,000 in salary, all of it coming off the salary cap in 2007. It will rise next season.
The Steelers are not about to pay any offensive lineman a $10 million, one-year salary. They won't have that much room under the cap, for one thing. For another, if they wanted Faneca to stay, they would have negotiated a long-term deal for him last spring or summer.