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Old 11-12-2007, 06:13 AM   #1
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Default Second-half defense provides blanket coverage

Second-half defense provides blanket coverage
Monday, November 12, 2007
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



The predicament that threatened to asphyxiate Mike Tomlin's team halfway through yesterday's AFC North conflagration was far greater than the dimensions evident on the scoreboard. A 12-point deficit to that rarest strain of Cleveland Browns, the kind that mount an assault on the Steelers' first-place position, wasn't anywhere near as foreboding as the trends of that moment.

The Steelers were getting no pressure on quarterback Derek Anderson, who was making sandwiches, taking phone calls, and jotting to-do lists in the pocket, at least when he wasn't throwing three first-half touchdown passes. The Browns converted more third-down plays on their first possession yesterday (four) than the Baltimore Ravens had all of Monday night (three).

Worst of all, the Steelers' suddenly embattled secondary was flashing all of the maturity of a junior high sleepover.

Anthony Smith, who is going to hurt someone -- possibly himself -- very seriously if he doesn't start playing under control, got flagged for taunting Jamal Lewis one play after Lewis nearly knocked him into Manchester on a 5-yard run leading to Cleveland's second touchdown. Bryant McFadden taunted Braylon Edwards just as demonstrably on the next series, but wasn't penalized. Ike Taylor, a five-year veteran, jawed manically at Edwards after officials ruled he was out of bounds with an apparent 16-yard touchdown pass.

Too bad Edwards was proven to have beaten Taylor via replay. Could have saved Ike a stomach full of invective. Could have, not would have. Not likely.

Edwards' phenomenal, spin-around sprawling catch made it 21-6 Cleveland, but if you thought you were looking at a defense coming apart at the seams, Tomlin would gladly have informed you that it was, in fact, coming together.

"We knew there would be potential for us not getting a bunch of pressure," said the first-year head coach who had just polished his record to 4-0 in the division and 5-0 at home. "I think the difference since we played them the first time is that Anderson makes quick decisions with the football. He gets the football out of his hands. The big thing is that we wanted to make him make quick decisions, but we had to be great in coverage. We had to be close to people. It's not about sacks; it's about pressure, and pressure was sufficient."

There were plenty of other differences between this episode and that laughable season opener in Ohio, all of them with negative implications for Tomlin. In the first meeting, the Steelers got six sacks and five turnovers. Yesterday, they got none and one, and still held the revitalized Browns to 58 yards less than they managed in the opener.

"We played the run really well," said defensive end Aaron Smith, whose help was immeasurable in his first start since hurting his knee Oct. 21 at Denver. "But our defensive backs just really did a great job because he doesn't hold the ball very long."

Among all the dynamic components of this come-from-way-behind victory that gave the Steelers a two-game lead in the AFC North, from the ever-emerging brilliance of Ben Roethlisberger to the Steelers' truly slapstick coverage teams, none was more confounding than the startlingly efficient second half Dick LeBeau's defense managed against all the obvious inertia.

In that second half, with the Browns huffing the obvious rewards that would come with expanding that 12-point lead, Anderson and the same offense that ran up 348 yards last week against Seattle went three-and-out, three-and-out, one-and-out (fumble), three-and-out, four-and-out (thanks to a penalty), three-and-out, and didn't get a first down until 50 seconds remained in the game.

"We did a good job of keeping the play in front of us," Troy Polamalu said of the secondary's startling virtuosity. "There weren't really many adjustments. We just had a lot of confidence. We've played in this situation before. The weird thing was they didn't really take a shot downfield."

No Anderson completion was even 17 yards in length, and when he finally threw 16 yards to Joe Jurevicius on the Browns' final possession, he was able to follow up with a desperate 13-yard strike to Kellen Winslow for only the second first down of the half. Cleveland had 11 before intermission.

Anderson got it to Jurevicius for 3 more yards to the Steelers' 35, where Polamalu dragged big Joe to the grass as the clock blinked to 0:11.

Phil Dawson's unlikely 52-yard field-goal try would have tied it, 31-31, had it been aimed into Heinz Field's pocket, but with the wind pumping reliably off the river at the open end, it fell well short.

The Steelers played a lot of cover 2 yesterday, and deployed a lot of gimmickry that had defensive ends dropping into coverage as well, but even a game plan that ultimately left them sackless couldn't impede the relentless excellence of this defense, nor could the temporary insanity of some of its components.
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Old 11-12-2007, 03:26 PM   #2
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Default Re: Second-half defense provides blanket coverage

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Phil Dawson's unlikely 52-yard field-goal try would have tied it, 31-31, had it been aimed into Heinz Field's pocket, but with the wind pumping reliably off the river at the open end, it fell well short.
I'm tellin ya - it was pure HELL sitting there watching that kick go up headed towards the uprights. I think a game ball should be given to that wind coming off of the Ohio yesterday!
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Old 11-12-2007, 03:38 PM   #3
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Default Re: Second-half defense provides blanket coverage

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Originally Posted by HometownGal View Post
I'm tellin ya - it was pure HELL sitting there watching that kick go up headed towards the uprights. I think a game ball should be given to that wind coming off of the Ohio yesterday!


I believe it. I am happy I saw the game I did!!
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