Steelers Playbook 2009: A Model Of Consistency

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Steelers Playbook 2009: A Model Of Consistency
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

When discussions arise about what makes a great NFL team, the words stability and consistency aren't mentioned much. But stability and consistency have made franchises like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles so successful in recent years.

Andy Reid and Bill Belichick have been with their respective squads for more than a decade. Mike Tomlin took over a team with stability in the front office and coaching staff, which made his transition an easy one.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have a team like the St. Louis Rams. The franchise has had five head coaches and six offensive coordinators since 2004. It's easy to see why the Rams are only 5-27 the last two seasons.

Stability and consistency in the Pittsburgh organization has allowed QB Ben Roethlisberger to blossom and bring two Lombardi Trophies to the Steel City. The success is a function of the front office, the coaches, the players, and the playbook.

The Steelers playbook is a philosophy that works. It produces championships, and like all successful systems, players are interchangeable, but the results are the same.

The No. 1 reason for the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the defense. Everything else flows from that.

The Steelers base is a 3-4, also known as a 30 Front. In the 30 Front, the nose tackle is lined up in a cocked angle between the guard and center. This is done to take advantage of the center-guard blocks.

The outside linebackers play linebacker and rush end out on the extreme edges to put pressure on the quarterback.

The ends play what's known as the five technique and do the grunt work for the defense. They take on double teams and give the linebackers one-on-one match-ups in open space.

Pittsburgh's bread and butter is the zone blitz.

The Zone Blitz was created by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. The long-time NFL coach designed the scheme as a safer way to attack the quarterback and not leave the defense exposed.

In the zone blitz, the defense drops pass rushers into coverage, confusing the offensive line and the quarterback. The linemen assume that the defensive ends and defensive tackles will rush the passer. By using a Zone Blitz, the defense throws off the blocking assignments of the offensive line by switching the responsibilities of a defensive lineman with those of a linebacker or defensive back.

LeBeau is a genius at disguising the zone blitz and where it's coming from. The quarterback has no idea who is rushing or dropping into coverage.

The key to the Zone Blitz is a solid fill player in the eight-man box. He must be equally effective against the run or the pass, and usually the player is the strong safety. Pittsburgh has a great one with Troy Polamalu.

The offense under Bruce Arians likes to run from multiple sets and formations. They run pro-set, one-back and two tight ends, but the favorite is the bunch formation.

The bunch formation is normally a grouping of three receivers bunched tightly near the line of scrimmage. The three players making up the "bunch" might be three wideouts, or some combination of a WR, TE, and FB. The Steelers like to get into this formation and mix the personnel to spread the defense out.

Roethlisberger likes to hit Santonio Holmes in crossing routes, Hines Ward in a slant, or Nate Washington (now Limas Sweed) in the deep out or skinny post from this formation. Running plays from the bunch are usually off-tackle, toss sweeps, and dives.

Depending upon the exact alignment and how the defense chooses to play the formation, you might also see one-on-one coverage with the single split receiver. Sometimes that receiver will be the primary route and the bunch merely a way to distract the defense and open up the field.

The Steelers like to line up with three receivers and a tight end in their normal bunch formation, and Roethlisberger picks and chooses his open guy to throw to. In the red zone, Big Ben looks for TE Heath Miller, usually from play action.

The Pittsburgh Steelers playbook is based on solid football principles. Add to that the consistency and stability of the organization, and you have a recipe for Super Bowl success.

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