October 15, 2007

The Steelers Defense Will Make You Bleed...

Recently, I read and reported that this 2007 Steelers defense has given up less points through 5 games than both the 1975 and 1978 Super Bowl winning Steel Curtain defenses. If you didn't read it - 47 points in 5 games vs. 48 and 51 points for the dynasty squads respectively. Of course, as Steeler fans, we all kind of expect dominating defense, and when we're anything less than oppressive, we all have a good cry about it.

So it's not surprising that NOW, all anyone wants to talk about is how spotless our defensive performance has been. When I sat down to post last night, I took a look around the interwebs to get some inspiration, and everywhere I looked I found articles about the DEFENSE. And not just all about the same aspects of the defense, but at least a few distinct facets that intrigued me.

Anyways, I'm just gonna throw these out one by one and give you a [relatively] quick commentary for each (because let's face it, I'd hate to stretch you on a Monday).

Let the fun begin:

#1 ~ Post-Gazette - "Defense '07 -- Shades of steel, shades of history"
As if the name doesn't say it all, this Ed Bouchette gem was my main inspiration for this post. It highlights the stat mentioned above, and adds some other awe-inspiring numbers. Check it --

  1. The Steelers lead the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (9.4)
  2. They have also allowed the fewest yards per game (235.6) and fewest yards per play (4.2)
  3. They have allowed no pass completion longer than 38 yards and only 4 of 25 yards or longer
  4. They are tied for 1st in team sacks, with 17
  5. They have allowed no touchdowns in the first half of games, only the two field goals by the 49ers
Pretty, pretty good I'd say. Still, at the risk of sounding like a black cloud, we have yet to play a team anyone thinks is a contender. Particularly, after watching the Seahawks last night against the previously underwhelming Saints, I'm not so convinced that it was predominantly our Defensive acumen that won that game. That offense looked pretty terrible for most of that game, and the Saints defense isn't exactly top notch. Just something to keep in the back of your mind.

#2 ~ Tribune-Review
- "Cover-2 helps Steelers' defense flourish"
As this article points out, if you thought you saw more Cover 2 on the field against Seattle, you weren't crazy. It seems that Tomlin and LeBeau dialed up the Cover 2 more last week to quell the Seattle west coast passing attack. Guess that worked. But what's more interesting is that Ike Taylor seems to think we always played a Cover 2. As he puts it -
"We always ran it...I guess ya'll looking at Coach Tomlin as a Cover-2 guy. But (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau always ran a little bit of Cover-2."
The other astute observation this article makes is that - while we played more Cover 2, we still stopped the run. Even without Casey Hampton, and with all that speed on the field to prevent the big pass play, we were able to contain Shaun Alexander to an anemic 25 yards rushing. Now, once they got down a couple scores they had to abandon the run, and as I mentioned above, it was the Seahawks, so I'm not entirely convinced this was a good test of our big game abilities. Nonetheless, it's good to know that we can incorporate elements of different styles of defense to combat different offenses each week.

#3 ~ Post-Gazette - "LeBeau's linebackers keep opposing QBs guessing"
While the name suggests an egalitarian discussion of our linebacking corps, this article is really about James Farrior. Sure, we've got a bunch of noteworthy guys in that category, but the one who's throwing his weight around most is the 32 year old, 11 year vet, Farrior. As the article points out, Farrior's team leading 4 sacks have come via rushing the QB from the outside, despite that he's an ILB. It also notes that of the league's sack leaders, the only interior linebackers are Farrior and the Bear's freak of nature, Brian Urlacher. This successful outside rush is best summed up by an envious Clark Haggans, who said -
"He's very lucky because he's running free off the edge and everybody else gets murdered running up in the line...He kind of creeps around the side. He's the clean-up guy. Wherever there's a little gap or a hole he needs to fill, he does it."
And that's the point - he does it. Farrior has been more than I think any of us would have expected, and his success rushing the QB just makes opposing offenses more weary of him, opening opportunities for the other 10 guys that could be blitzing on any down.

#4 ~ Observer-Reporter - "Age not slowing Steelers' Farrior "
James Farrior is a star this week. Bet he didn't think at this point in the season he'd be getting so much love. Or maybe he did. Who knows. Either way, this article again highlights the Super-Steeler, but in a different light. The excellent article, written by Steeler beat writer Dale Lolley, shows the leadership Farrior brings to the team. Since there's no Peezy around anymore to stir things up before games, Farrior has taken over the role of Defensive leader. But as Lolley points out, Farrior's style is disparately different from Porter's (obviously). Farrior lets his play do the talking, and when he addresses the team, he "speaks from the heart." Sort of jabbing at Porter (and why not, he's such an easy target these days...an overpaid easy target at that), Farrior says of his pre-game speech:
"It's nothing special. I'm not asking anybody to ride with me or anything like that. I'm just speaking from the heart."
Whatever he's doing, it seems to be working. It's nice to know that the guy leading this team spiritually is a guy who also leads by example. We can only hope his leadership continues to have the positive effect it has had during the 1st five weeks, for the rest of this season.

Phew, wow, still with me? Good.

Bottom line = The Steelers defense has been great, and the prospect of watching them against teams like Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver and New England, while a bit daunting, is exciting. These games will prove to be the true test of how strong this group is. If they're able to get it done against the AFC power houses they would presumably face should they make the playoffs, then perhaps I will feel 100% comfortable saying this is one of the best defensive units I've ever seen. But hey, what do I know, I just blog this shit.


Anonymous said...

Farrior has always been an integral part of our defense's success. When Porter was here he took alot of the limelight away from J.F. But i doubt he minded. As you point out in the post he's a more subtle (and, IMHO, effective) leader than Joey was.

Farrior was terribly under-rated in NY with the Jets. Mainly, I think, because they tried to force him into a more physical, less cerebral role at OLB. He is a smart, fast-thinking instinctive LB who shines on the inside where those things are far more valuable than pure physical thunder (i.e. Porter).

It's great to see him get more face-time, and hopefully the money he's worth one day.

Myself, i like the low-key, from-the-heart style of leadership a lot. It tends to bring out the best in everyone without the emotional-letdown that follows the blustering, loud-mouth style of more high-profile types. And it allows the low-key type to reserve his intensity for the football field, where it belongs.

If we watch tape, we see that Farrior has been EVERY bit as effective and dominant in his position as the over-hyped Ray Lewis. Although Lewis makes a few more high-profile plays in the 4-3 base of Balti, Farrior is very rarely out of position and because of that allows his team-mates to makle the big plays. Good for him that he's finally getting some recognition in the media. And some sacks!

Maybe he'll finally get a pro-Bowl this year. (can't remember if he has one or more already...)

Keep it up, Cotter. You rock, man.

Cotter said...

Yes siree, Farrior did make it to the pro bowl in 2004.

Agreed on the leadership factor. I think he gives just enough personality and plenty of example to be a great leader for this defense. Unfortunately for him I doubt he'll ever get more money than he's getting right now, since he's 32 and underrated as it is. Plus the Steelers just don't give aging linebackers deals. But I don't think that matters as much to him as winning. I think Farrior is a Jeff Hartings type of guy - take a pay cut to stay with a winner. Nahmeen?

Thanks for the comment brotha'!