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fordfixer
09-28-2008, 01:19 AM
Steelers: Preventing big plays still No. 1 priority
Saturday, September 27, 2008
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08271/915607-66.stm

There are no spots for a riverboat gambler in the Steelers' secondary. Not with the way defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, a former NFL cornerback with 62 career interceptions, requires his players to perform. His No. 1 priority, is for the cornerbacks and safeties to keep the ball in front of them and not let receivers get behind them.

"No big plays," cornerback Ike Taylor said.

It's the reason the Steelers allowed only 11 pass plays of 25 yards or longer last season -- only the Indianapolis Colts (10) allowed fewer -- and are one of only two teams who haven't allowed any this season.

It's also part of the reason the Steelers had only 11 interceptions last season, tied for fewest in the league. Such a conservative approach does not lend itself to defensive backs taking chances or gambling on interceptions. Especially when LeBeau's second priority is making sure a receiver is tackled when he catches the ball.

The Steelers have not changed the way they play in the secondary, at least not their approach. The defensive backs still try to keep the ball in front of them and try to prevent the big play. The longest pass play they have allowed this season is 24 yards in the opener against the Houston Texans.

But their larcenous performance after three games is beginning to look as though LeBeau has perhaps instilled a gambler's instinct in his players.

The Steelers have six interceptions, more than half their total from last season and second only to the Tennessee Titans (7). Leading the way is safety Troy Polamalu, who has one in each game and is second in the conference with three.

Right behind is cornerback Bryant McFadden, who has two interceptions -- one in each of the two games he started for injured Deshea Townsend. It was also his pass breakup that led to Polamalu's diving one-handed interception in Philadelphia.

"It's just coming in bunches," McFadden said. "We're putting ourselves in great situations to get interceptions.

"With the way our pass rush gets after the quarterback, if they have to throw the ball when they're not ready, we're focusing on the ball when it comes. That's something we've been doing since training camp, making sure that once we get the ones that touch our hands, we'll be OK."

That is exactly what the Steelers (2-1) are hoping to do Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens (2-0) at Heinz Field -- and exactly what the Ravens have been trying to prevent with their rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco.

The Ravens have been relying on the run in their first two games -- 90 attempts for 380 yards and five touchdowns -- in an attempt to ease Flacco's development and not put their No. 1 draft choice in position to win games by himself. They were able to do that in home victories against the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

"They're trying to make it as comfortable for the quarterback as possible," said McFadden, who will start his third game in a row at left cornerback against the Ravens.

It might be a more difficult task on the road against the Steelers, who have the AFC's top rush defense (64.3 yards per game) and are second in the conference with 10 sacks.

And don't forget about that pass defense.

"I know the defense is built around the front seven, but, if we don't hold our end, it doesn't matter what the front end does," Taylor said. "That's what it boils down to."
Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.
First published on September 27, 200