Senin, 19 September 2011

Defense rebounds, work remains

Monday, September 19, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: James Harrison(notes) #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts to sacking Tarvaris Jackson(notes) #7 of the Seattle Seahawks during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Seahawks 24-0. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Nothing could have made a neater narrative for the Steelers than to see their defense bounce back, schematically and spiritually, from that abomination in Baltimore last week. And man, that script sure erupted to life Sunday with the 24-0 shutout of Seattle at Heinz Field.

Did you see Troy Polamalu soaring Superman-style into Tarvaris Jackson for a sack?

Or James Harrison one-arming Jackson like a flapjack?

Or Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, maybe the Steelers' most beleaguered men in the opener, swarming side to side to quash the run?

Or Ike Taylor spooking Seattle's coaches to the degree that Jackson threw his way twice all day?

And hey, how about James Farrior simply staying on the field?

It was a dominant performance, even if it came against a sorry set of Seahawks who mustered 164 total yards, including a ridiculous 31 on the ground, and tiptoed across midfield once. You'd have to imagine it was a blast for the 63,663 on hand, especially those who feared a sequel of the old/slow/dull show of the 35-7 loss to the Ravens.

On the inside, though, the reaction was about as subdued as I was hoping it would be. Time and again, defensive players were asked whether they had just expunged that Baltimore game, and each reply came with a bristle.

This was linebacker Larry Foote: "That stink is going to be with us probably halfway through the season."

Keisel: "I don't think it goes away. We did need to respond to what happened, but this was really just one game."

Woodley: "We're going to take criticism all year, just off that one game. Everybody's going to talk about that one game, each and every week."


If this is how the Steelers react to being humbled like that, then let them wear it all season. Let them remember how over-confident they were in preparation and execution. Let them watch the film over and over again.

Be sure that's what the remaining opponents will be doing.

The Baltimore blueprint for beating the Steelers' defense — Neutralize the Linebackers 101 — will be mimicked enough that John Harbaugh should have it copyrighted. The Ravens, for those who already blocked it out, took away the linemen with semi-controversial chop blocks, forced the inside linebackers to drop into pass coverage and kept a fullback close to fend off blitzes. The cumulative effect was that the linebackers had little freedom to operate and other areas of the defense were exposed.

The Seahawks attempted somewhat feebly to do the same, but the Steelers never let it matter.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, in the surprise of the day, pretty much abandoned the blitz for the first three quarters. The Steelers still moved the outside linebackers back and forth and — finally — moved Polamalu back closer to the line of scrimmage, but most of the heat had to come from the defensive line. That's exactly what veterans Keisel, Smith and Casey Hampton brought, thus freeing up the linebackers.

"It was about as simple as you get, and I don't think Seattle saw that coming," Keisel said, grinning through the beard. "Coach LeBeau's got a pretty good poker face."

It helped, too, that LeBeau and defensive line coach John Mitchell spent much of the week working with those linemen on fending off chop blocks.

"We were ready for it this time," nose tackle Chris Hoke said. "You have to have a lot of movement, a lot of left-right, and you've got to bounce right back up once you do get cut."

More of that is on the way.

The NFL is a copycat league. The Steelers will see it again next Sunday in Indianapolis, then again and again. No one will — or should — be dissuaded because the Seahawks failed.

"Yeah, they tried," Woodley said. "We know that's going to continue. People will keep looking at the Baltimore film. But that correction's been made."

Has it?

That comment might have been the closest to any lack of humility in the Steelers' locker room, and it's unfounded: The defense's next interception will be its first. So will its next fumble recovery. And four of the five sacks yesterday came in the fourth quarter, when the Seahawks were heaving up prayers.

This was OK. This was, as Mike Tomlin called it, "appropriate" in light of what came before.

Expect the Colts to give that blueprint another go.

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 18: Mike Wallace(notes) #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a pass in front of Earl Thomas(notes) #29 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second half during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Game balls
Columnist Dejan Kovacevic picks Sunday's top performers:

Dick LeBeau, Steelers defensive coordinator
Sure, the Seahawks were lousy, but the defense still had to bounce back from its worst game in a decade. LeBeau achieved that by going back to basics.

Mike Wallace, Steelers WR
The offense's only good performer in Week 1 kept it going with eight catches for 126 yards, a touchdown and a 53-yard off-his-shoestrings gem in the third quarter.

Troy Polamalu, Steelers S
He tied for the team lead in tackles with eight, had a flying sack of Tarvaris Jackson and nearly picked off a pass for a touchdown. Anyone still talking about Polamalu's age?

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