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|10-28-2006, 12:04 AM||#1|
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Defense Showing Two Sides
Steelers' defense showing two sides
Saturday, October 28, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To be sure, there have been moments of grandeur for the Steelers' defense, periods of plays or series where they have flashed the dominating, shutdown style that is their trademark.
Their run defense, which ranks ninth in the NFL, has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, stretching the streak to just one in the past 40 games. Their pass defense is tied for the NFL lead with 11 interceptions, just four fewer than all of last season.
What's more, there have been instances, even in the past three games, where opponents have needed a furniture van to move the ball against them. Kansas City went six consecutive series with just three plays and a punt. Four of the first five series in Atlanta were three-and-out for the Falcons.
Even the San Diego Chargers managed just three plays on their first three possessions against the Steelers' defense.
"In spurts," said outside linebacker Joey Porter, "we can show we're still a shutdown defense."
But in too many instances during a 2-4 start, the spurts have given way to gushes, and not the kind that have typically been the staple of the Steelers' defense.
It began with blowing three leads in the Oct. 8 game in San Diego and it ended with allowing 41 points, the most since their 6-10 season in 2003, in Sunday's overtime loss in Atlanta. In between, there have also been:
Five drives of 80 yards or longer against the defense, including 91 yards to the Chargers and 97 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Last year, the Steelers allowed only three drives of 80 yards or longer, and one of those was an 80-yard touchdown catch by Marvin Harrison on the first play of the game in Indianapolis.
Ten touchdown passes allowed, including a career-high four to Michael Vick, after allowing an AFC-low 15 in 2005.
Blown leads in three of the four losses, including 17-10 at the end of three quarters against the Bengals and a 13-7 halftime advantage in San Diego.
173 yards rushing to the Falcons, including 131 in the fourth quarter and overtime. That's the most an opponent has managed since the New York Jets had 175 yards rushing in December, 2003.
"We have done some uncharacteristic things," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
"That's not our type of ball around here," inside linebacker Larry Foote said.
Indeed, the Steelers flew to Oakland last night to get ready for tomorrow's 4:15 p.m. game against the Raiders (1-5) not sure which defense has been packed and stored with all the other equipment.
If it's the one that wilted in the second half in San Diego and bent more than Nadia Comaneci in the final two periods in the Georgia Dome, the Steelers might have a difficult time even getting past the Raiders.
But, if it's the one that held Larry Johnson to 26 yards rushing or the Bengals to 246 yards offense, the Raiders will likely continue as the NFL's lowest-scoring team (72 points).
So long as the Steelers can do it for a period that extends longer than 30 minutes.
Or even 45.
"We know we can be dominant because we do it," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "We just have to sustain it for four quarters."
To be sure, some defensive efforts have been wasted -- at the very least, soiled -- by fumbles.
That was the case against the Bengals, when the Steelers lost after fourth-quarter fumbles by Ricardo Colclough and Verron Haynes.
And, against the Falcons, the Steelers were dominant in nearly every facet until Atlanta turned four mistakes -- three fumbles and a muffed onside kick -- into four touchdowns.
Granted, the four scoring drives totaled just 124 yards, an average march of just 31 yards. But the defense took the blame for not keeping the Falcons, the NFL's worst red-zone team (3 of 17), from the end zone.
In addition, after holding the NFL's top run offense to just 42 yards in three quarters, the Falcons had 87 yards rushing in the fourth quarter and 44 in overtime.
"Flying home from Atlanta, we didn't feel good, especially on the defensive side," Foote said. "We gave up all them points."
Then he added,
"We ain't out of it, but we've got to play a little desperate now. Just take one game at a time and we're going to get back in this."
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