The Steelers Defense: Putting on a Clinic

Jeff LittleSenior Writer INovember 22, 2008

The Steelers started off this season with unanswered questions and something to prove, like every other team that failed to win their last game and hold up the Lombardi Trophy.


The Steelers however had a far more arduous hurdle to overcome, the toughest schedule in the league with a .598 opponents' winning percentage in 2007.


The Steelers are a team whose identity for years has been to run the football and play solid defense. That changed a bit last season when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was unleashed a little bit more by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians last season and more so this season.


Big Ben is the most sacked passer in the league and the team will have to do a better job of protecting him, against the Bengals he wasn’t sacked in the game which has only happened twice this season.


The Steelers remain a run first team but Ben Roethlisberger is clearly the team leader. 

Every team needs something to hang their hat on and be able to count on when all else fails.


The one constant has been the 'burgh defense. Every year the names might change on the back of the jersey but you can mark them down as one of best defenses in the league year in and year out.


In 2007, the Steelers won their 18th division championship since the 1970 merger, which is more than any other team.


That streak was thought by many to be stopped and the AFC North division up for grabs this season with the improvements of the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns and the bruising schedule for Pittsburgh, to include the age of one of the best 3-4 defensive lines.


Second year Head Coach Mike Tomlin deserves credit for having the foresight to retain the 3-4 godfather and the teams defensive identity when he took over. The funny thing was hearing people question whether the team would change their scheme. 


A whole lot of praise needs to go to defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau, the man who is in the fifth year of his second tour of duty in Pittsburgh. He has been coaching in the NFL since 1973 a year after his stellar 14-year playing career with Detroit Lions ended.


He was recently honored for logging 50 years in the NFL.


He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection with 62 career interceptions. He played with the likes of Dick “Night Train” Lane, Yale Lary and Lem Barney. He still holds the NFL record for consecutive game appearances by a cornerback with 171.   


Coach LeBeau is one of the main reasons the Steelers have been champions and remain perpetual contenders. Some may ask the question, why is Pittsburgh’s defense so formidable?


The answer is simple their defensive coordinator invented the “zone blitz” defense, as well as the “fire zone,” and plays it better than anyone else.


A zone defense is usually referring to pass coverage and is designed to keep everything in front of you, and eliminate long passes.


His defenses employ three down lineman and four linebackers as well as several unpredictable pass rushes and pass coverage’s from several players; they’ll stop the run and get after the quarterback. His zone blitz provides several key advantages for the defense.


The team is still playing a zone in coverage as oppose to having corners on an island playing the receivers man-to-man. He will play zone and blitz you with one of the four linebackers or a defensive back on any given play. It can be described as controlled chaos.


Normally the defensive tackles and defensive ends are responsible for the pass rush. In Coach LeBeau’s zone blitz defense, he will drop lineman into the coverage to cover the short zones or hot routes and the linebackers will pressure the quarterback from all angles and disrupt the timing of your offense.


The scheme has frustrated many coaches and confused several offensive lines blocking schemes for years. The offense has no idea who will be blitzing or where to shift the protection to pick up the blitz.


The above mentioned items are a given due to the fact that they’ll happen week in and week out. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback and Pittsburgh will see three first year starters the remainder of the season.


The Steelers do have the Ravens breathing down their necks for the division crown but they’re right where they want to be, a lead in the division with five games to go. The issue is the winning percentage of the five teams .640; those games are @ New England, Dallas, @ Baltimore, @ Tennessee and Cleveland.


I use the word issue and not problem because that is what their defense will be to each of the above mentioned offenses. Four out of their next five opponents have winning records and not one of these games could be considered an easy win.


The Pittsburgh Steelers defense, which ranked first in total yards per game in 2007 at the tune of 266 yards, is at it again this year. They’ve literally turned it up a notch so far this season and have raised the bar and altered the game plan or shut down every team they’ve played.


In this man’s game, where coaches are telling the players to step up your game every week the Steelers have shown me that they're ready for whatever lies ahead of them.


Football is a collision sport played by modern day gladiators and despite a difficult schedule and injuries the Steelers have played well.


After two close home losses to the Colts and Giants the team had a productive week by beating the Chargers and the Bengals and stand at eight wins and three losses. Despite the fact that the final score of the Chargers game shouldn’t have been 11-10.


Most importantly four division wins and seven wins and one loss against the AFC.


November and December is the must win game part of the schedule and with the difficult one given to them, Pittsburgh has been playing their games with playoff intensity.


This is a playoff team that has played a playoff worthy schedule and has stood toe to toe with the leagues best. They’re getting healthy at the right time, showing their metal and a playoff ready defense.


The Steelers have held their opponents under 300 yards of total offense in every game.  The NFL needs to pull the Steelers off of the NFL’s offenses, that they’re in the process of choking out.


The Steelers will take their number one ranked defense on the road in Week 13 to play the Patriots on Nov. 30. The 'burgh defense is on fire and playing at another level and plan to extend their streak of opponents held 300 yards total offense to 12.