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Old 01-03-2008, 11:53 PM   #1
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Default Taylor has Steelers on the run

Taylor has Steelers on the run
Friday, January 04, 2008
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It is like watching the Great Wall crumble, brick by brick, a stark reminder that even the sturdiest pillars are prone to disintegration.

It is not that dramatic with the Steelers' defense, which still retains some measure of statistical pride as the National Football League's No. 1-ranked unit, despite allowing an average of 28.5 points in the past four games.

But it has almost become that pronounced with the rush defense, which, less than two months ago, was the most dominating in the league.

"It's surprising, it's disturbing, it's everything," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "That's just not our makeup. That's not what we do, not being able to stop the run."

There is little resemblance to the unit that has allowed 494 yards rushing in the past three games to the one that earlier this season had gone 34 games in a row without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Or had allowed just one 100-yard rusher in 59 games, dating to the 2004 season.

What's worse, the Steelers (10-6) have an AFC wild-card playoff game tomorrow night at Heinz Field against Fred Taylor and the Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5), the team that gouged them for 224 yards rushing Dec. 16 in the Steelers' only home loss of the season.

"They really wore us out, they really beat us," said safety Tyrone Carter. "They ran the ball on us, something we look forward to stopping. We thrive on stopping the run, and they did it to us."

But it hasn't been just Jacksonville.

Thomas Jones of the New York Jets rushed for 117 yards on 30 carries Nov. 17, ending the Steelers' streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher at 34 games. Four days after the Jaguars ran for 224 yards -- the most in seven seasons against the Steelers -- Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams had 85 yards on 12 carries and was averaging 7.1 yards per attempt before the Rams got behind and had to abandon the run.

Then, in the season finale, the Baltimore Ravens were down to their third- and fourth-team backs because of injuries to Willis McGahee and Mike Anderson but managed to rush for 180 yards.

"Unfortunately, we did our bad stretch toward the end of the year, which is when you want to be rolling," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "We got to get that back."

"I'm sure teams are going to continue to do that against us," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We finished the season with the No. 1 defense. This is a good defense. We just need to stay sound and believe in our brother."

The Steelers' problems go beyond trying to stop Taylor, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the final five games of the regular season, including 147 against the Steelers at Heinz Field. Only four players in league history have entered the playoffs with more consecutive 100-yard games.

Three of those players -- Barry Sanders (14 in 1997), Marcus Allen (9 in 1985) and Clinton Portis (6 in 2003) -- lost their first playoff game that season.

According to some of the players, the Steelers have had problems stopping just about any back on two running plays in particular:

? The stretch, in which the defense is forced to move laterally, creating gaps for a back such as Taylor to cut back.

? The counter, a play in which the guard pulls from the opposite side and forces the defensive end to hold up at the point of attack. With defensive end Aaron Smith (torn bicep) out for the season, teams have been running the counter to the left side of the defense.

"They're making our little guys bring down their big guys," Keisel said about the counter play. "They're getting a hat on a hat on all of us up front and they're making the secondary make the tackle. They understand the type of defense we play and understand how we fit on certain things. That's where it's kind of getting broke."

Few teams run the stretch play as well as the Jaguars, and the reason is Taylor, one of the best cutback runners in the league. The Steelers, though, have been vulnerable to the play because it forces their lineman and linebackers to run laterally and causes them to get out of their gaps. The players insist they are getting out of their gaps -- not being "gap sound," is the expression -- because they are trying to compensate for some of their deficiencies. One of those is the loss of Smith, their most consistent defensive lineman.

"Not only did Aaron make the plays he's supposed to make," said backup nose tackle Chris Hoke. "He made the plays he's not supposed to make."

"I think our guys are doing too much," Keisel said. "Guys are not staying in their gap, thinking they can help someone else make the play rather than stay in their gap and letting them take care of it."

"That's what happens when you break yourself down -- you go help someone else before you do what you have to do," LeBeau said. "They are errors of commission. Those are the ones you want to deal with because they are proactive [mistakes]. They have to trust their teammate."

Or face a short postseason.

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Old 01-04-2008, 11:12 AM   #2
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Default Re: Taylor has Steelers on the run

If it's not who we are defensively, then maybe those 11 guys on DEFENSE should stand up and make a statement Saturday night and next week in NE

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