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Old 01-04-2011, 04:47 PM   #1
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Default For Steelers, best offense is good defense

Bires: For Steelers, best offense is good defense
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Tuesday January 4, 2011 12:10 AM

Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy (12) is sacked by Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood in the first quarter Sunday. AP photo by Mark Duncan)

PITTSBURGH — As the Steelers continue their pursuit of a return trip to the Super Bowl, they’re doing so with a defense just as stingy and relentless as their defensive unit from 2008.

You may recall what happened that season. The Steelers won the AFC North with a 12-4 record. They ranked No. 1 in total defense and scoring defense.

Linebacker James Harrison earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.

And the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.

Time will tell if the Steelers even make it to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas this season. But based on how well their defense is playing, no one should discount them.

Without a doubt, they possess the NFL’s best set of linebackers in James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley.

They have an exceptional defensive line even though Aaron Smith has missed the past 10 games with a torn triceps. Casey Hampton remains one of the league’s top nose tackles. Brett Keisel is having his best season as a pro at right end. Second-year pro Ziggy Hood is getting better each week at left end in place of Smith.

In the secondary, the only weak link is cornerback Bryant McFadden. But on the other side is Ike Taylor, who’s still a solid shutdown corner despite the fact he doesn’t intercept a lot of passes.

At free safety, Ryan Clark works well in tandem with the man who just might be this year’s NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That, of course, would be Troy Polamalu, the Steelers’ incomparable strong safety.

“He’s the guy who makes our defense whole,” Clark said.

Despite the fact he keeps making game-changing plays, Polamalu subscribes to the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” theory.

“There are so many different parts that go into making plays,” he said. “It’s the pressure that makes the quarterback hesitant. It takes great coverage for somebody to get a sack. That’s why I say, especially on this defense that it takes 11 guys to make a play.”

And it doesn’t hurt to have a defensive genius like Dick LeBeau calling the plays as coordinator.

To be sure, whoever comes to Heinz Field on Jan. 15 for an AFC divisional round playoff game —be it the Colts, Chiefs or Ravens — they’ll have a hard time running the ball.

The Steelers finished regular-season play with the third-best rushing defense in the 45-year Super Bowl era. They’ve allowed a paltry 62.8 yards per game.

In their last 50 games, they’ve allowed only one running back to rush for 100 yards. They were the only team in the league this year to allow just one run longer than 20 yards.

And even though the secondary was scorched in losses to the Saints and Patriots earlier this season — Drew Brees and Tom Brady threw for 305 and 350 yards, respectively — the pass defense has improved since then.

The Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks, and tied for fifth with 21 interceptions.

And since a 39-26 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 14, the Steelers’ defense did not allow more than one touchdown in any of their last seven games.

Who knows what will happen in the playoffs?

But at least the Steelers (12-4) are going into the Super Bowl tournament playing defense as well as any team still standing.

Mike Bires can be reached at mbires@timesonline.com
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