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Old 10-11-2009, 11:36 PM   #1
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Default Cook: Return to Blitzburgh a half-full trip

Cook: Return to Blitzburgh a half-full trip
Defense comes up with three consecutive sacks late in the game to save the day
Monday, October 12, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


A glass-is-half-empty kind of person will say the Steelers had another ridiculously tough time closing out a woeful opponent in the fourth quarter yesterday and were lucky to win.

A half-full person will tell you the Steelers should be encouraged because their underachieving defense finally stood tall and brought back pleasant memories of the Blitzburgh days when it counted most.

The Steelers held on to beat the Detroit Lions, 28-20, in what had the feel of a home game at Ford Field because of thousands of Terrible Towel-waving fans.

We're taking the half-full route this morning.

It's easy to feel good about the days ahead for the defense for reasons that go beyond the likely return of All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, if not Sunday against the Cleveland Browns then certainly against the Minnesota Vikings Oct. 25. The Steelers sacked quarterback Daunte Culpepper seven times, getting to him on three consecutive plays after the Lions moved to the Steelers' 21 with a chance for a potential tying touchdown with 1:54 left.

"It was time," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.

Time for the Steelers' defense to come up big, to be sure. It had allowed the Lions to climb back into the game by giving up a 7-play, 82-yard touchdown drive on Detroit's previous position. Suddenly, it was awfully difficult not to think about the near-collapse against the San Diego Chargers the week before and the total meltdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals and Chicago Bears the two weeks before that.

But it also was time for Woodley, who came into the game without a sack after getting 111/2 last season and six more in the postseason. He finally got to Culpepper for a 9-yard loss early in the Lions' final possession, then shared a sack with blitzing cornerback William Gay on the first of those three plays in a row at the end. If he really gets his game going and gives the Steelers a bookend sacker to go with linebacker James Harrison, the defense will be murder again on opponents.

"Nice to see him finally join the party," linebacker James Farrior said of Woodley. "[Coach Mike Tomlin] is always teasing him about James getting more sacks than he does. I guess he felt like he had to get his quota today."

Despite his big day, Woodley couldn't keep up with the relentless Harrison, who had three sacks and looked every bit the NFL Defensive Player of the Year that he was last season. Poor Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus. "I felt like I had a matchup to my advantage," Harrison said. Backus, not to mention Culpepper, didn't have a chance. Harrison sacked Culpepper on the Lions' first play, forcing a fumble that Culpepper recovered. He got him twice for sacks later in the game, forced him into an intentional grounding penalty that moved the Lions back from the Steelers' 7 to the 23 in the first quarter and made them settle for a field goal and then hit him as he threw late in the third quarter, leading to an interception by safety Ryan Clark.

"James played the way James always plays," Woodley said, shrugging.

"That's why he's the MVP," defensive end Brett Keisel said.

"You can't block him without holding him," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith added. "If I'm an offensive lineman, I hold him every play. They're not going to call it on every play, and that's the only way you can stop him."

Beyond the three sacks, which gave Harrison six in the past three games, he knocked star wide receiver Calvin Johnson out of the game on the Lions' second series, rushing to the sideline to put a ferocious lick on him.

"I think he had enough after that hit," Smith said of Johnson.

"I saw it in [Johnson's] face -- a look of pain," Farrior said.

The Lions did a better job of containing Harrison in the second half by giving Backus double-team help with a tight end or a running back. But there was no stopping the Steelers' pass rush in the final 1:54.

After the Lions' first down at the Steelers' 21, Gay came on blitzes on consecutive plays, sharing the sack with Woodley on the first and getting it by himself on the second. "That's why LeBeau is LeBeau," Keisel said of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "I don't think we called that blitz the whole game. That definitely was the right time for it."

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons added to Culpepper's misery on third down by busting through for a 13-yard sack. Just like that, the Lions went from first-and-10 at the 21 to fourth-and-34 at the 45. Culpepper's desperation pass on fourth down was batted away near the goal line by cornerback Ike Taylor.

"I liked what I saw," Tomlin said of his defense, clearly a half-full guy at that moment.

"We're still searching for the Steelers," Farrior said in a bit more half-empty mood.


Hey, I promised half-full today.

I'm thinking the Steelers might have found their real defense with those Blitzburgh moments.

Memo to Polamalu:

Get back soon, anyway.
Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on October 12, 2009 at 12:00 am

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09285...#ixzz0Th1x7FQu
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