View Full Version : defensive plan pays dividends

11-13-2009, 05:03 AM
Steelers' defensive plan pays dividends
Friday, November 13, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers always have had such a plan, from Mike Tomlin to Bill Cowher to Chuck Noll. Above all else, stop the run.

"That's what we do," said nose tackle Casey Hampton, the fulcrum of the line.

"That's our No. 1 goal, obviously; you know that," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "When you come into this defense, we always say run first, pass second. That's just what they preach when you're a young kid to a seasoned veteran."

Recently, the Steelers have stopped some of the best, including the NFL's three rushing leaders, Tennessee's Chris Johnson (57 yards in the opener), Cincinnati's Cedric Benson (76 yards in the third game), and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (69 yards).

Sunday, they get another crack at Benson, or vice versa.

"Their running back, especially lately, and the quarterback are both hot," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "That gives you a two-headed monster that makes it tough to defend because they can hurt you running and they can hurt you throwing."

Nevertheless, given the choice of stopping Benson or quarterback Carson Palmer, the Steelers will opt for the runner.

"You just have to be able to contain the ball-carrier and not let him control the game," LeBeau explained. "If all they have to do is hand the ball to the running back and they continue to move the ball consistently, there's not a whole lot of things they can mess up. You may get a holding call every now and then, but they don't have to pass protect you, they don't have to throw it, they don't have to catch it, all they have to do is turn around and hand it to somebody, and their percentage of execution is going to be pretty high on that.

"So, you have to force them into something else other than that or you're going to have a tough time"

Good examples came in the Steelers' games against Minnesota and Denver. Brett Favre passed a lot -- 50 times for 334 yards, mostly short to medium range. At the end, however, the Steelers' defense made the Vikings' quarterback pay with a sack/fumble/touchdown and a pick-six interception.

They took the same strategy in Denver, where quarterback Kyle Orton said the Broncos wanted to stick to the ground on the Steelers, even if they did not have early success. They hoped to run 25-30 times. The Broncos ran 14 times for 27 yards; Orton was intercepted three times, with one interception returned for a touchdown.

"A lot of good things can happen for the defense when they're passing," LeBeau noted.

The Steelers' run defense has not slipped since defensive end Aaron Smith was lost for the season after the fourth game. Their average against the run has, in fact, dipped, to 70.4 yards allowed a game. Last season, when they finished No. 2 in the NFL against the run, they allowed 80.3 per game.

Their defense against the run over the past five seasons before this one ranked 2-3-3-3-1. In the four seasons between 2001-'04, they finished first in the NFL three times.

"I think it's a tradition thing, I think it's the Steeler way," Keisel said. "I think it's something that they've kind of hung their hat on here as far as having great defenses, and it's something that puts them in position to win games."

Fast Willie taking it slow
Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall have reversed roles, and now it is Parker who hopes to get into a game every third series at least. That was the plan Monday at Denver, and he hopes it can be executed Sunday against Cincinnati.

"Get back to work every third series,'' Parker said of the plan. "I just have to do something."

After missing the fourth and fifth games with turf toe, Parker returned to action behind Mendenhall, who had only seven rushing attempts after the first three games. Mendenhall took the opportunity to start and has run for 528 yards over the past five games to become the unquestioned starter. Since returning, Parker has eight carries in three games and made it into the Denver game for one play after a long run by Mendenhall.

"He's running like a maniac," Parker said of the younger back. "You know this game, he's running and I just have to find a way to get in. Keep practicing what I'm doing, keep practicing at a high level, show them I'm serious about this.

"Last week, I was supposed to get in a third series, but Rashard had like three carries and he wanted to get him on the field. I was like 'cool.' He used to do me like that, too, so I understood."

Mendenhall had only three carries after the first two series, so he remained in the game for the third, the one in which they had planned to use Parker. He had just six carries at halftime for 25 yards but finished with 22 runs for 155 yards.

"He's running at a high level," Parker said. "He's running the ball with power, he's running with a lot of enthusiasm."

Parker said he is over his toe injury, although he will continue to wear the special Nike shoes built for him the rest of the season.

"I'm ready to get on that field now. It's just a matter of time. I'm waiting patiently. I'm waiting and, when my time comes, my number is called, I have to make the best of it."

Timmons in, Kirschke out
Lawrence Timmons went through a second full practice, and it appears he will return to start at inside linebacker after missing the game Monday with a sprained right ankle.

Defensive end Travis Kirschke did not practice again, and it appears he will miss his second game in a row with a torn left calf muscle. Nick Eason would make his second start in a row at left defensive end if Kirschke can't play.

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