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NorthCoast
01-29-2009, 11:00 PM
LeBeau ties success to numbers game
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 3:02 AM
By Tim May

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
When Dick LeBeau played football, he was competing and computing.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator couldn't help it. Coming from a London, Ohio, family in which his father was an accountant and a close cousin was a comptroller, charting and crunching numbers came naturally. They first started to make sense from a football standpoint when he toiled as a defensive back for the Detroit Lions in the late 1950s and early '60s.

"Believe it or not -- yes, the game has changed over the years, but the numbers you need to be successful defensively have varied very little, and that's the (average) yards per rush, yards per throw and yards per play," said LeBeau, 71. "When I first started keeping track of this, it amazed me how repetitive they were."

The goal is to average no more than 3.7 yards per rushing attempt, 5.7 per pass attempt and 4.7 per play, he said. His Steelers defense -- the best in the NFL -- is giving up an average of 3.3 yards per rush, 4.7 per pass and 3.9 per play.

"We've built everything that we do around angles, and we try to reach certain goals, and if we reach those goals we are a productive defense," LeBeau said. "That has stayed viable for 20 years, believe it or not. I have the statistical data to support that empirically. However, I won't show it to you."

He shows it to his fellow players and coaches, though. The numbers provide the rhyme to his reasoning.

They help explain the mental gymnastics that saw him come up with such novel defensive schemes as the zone blitz, in which he makes the quarterback and offensive linemen constantly deal with numbers ("There were three defenders left of center a second ago, but only two are rushing. Where's the other guy!?").

One of the beauties of working with LeBeau, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, is LeBeau never comes off as a know-it-all.

"He probably knows close to all of it," Tomlin said with a laugh, "but he doesn't wear it. He really doesn't. He is an incredibly humble, down-to-earth person."

LeBeau said that's because football has a way of humbling a man. Take Sunday's game -- a primary threat to those numbers will be Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the hottest playmaker this postseason.

"Our cornerbacks will all have to do a good job at the ball, because they for sure are gonna test 'em," LeBeau said. "I think our numbers say that our corners have done a good job for us for several years, but we haven't played against this guy."

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2009/01/27/super_lebeau_side.ART_ART_01-27-09_C2_M8CMVH9.html