The defense never rests

"The defense rests." You've probably heard that saying a thousand times on legal dramas like Matlock, Perry Mason, L.A. Law and Law and Order. They all say it. But this isn't a legal drama and the setting isn't a courtroom. It's the Super Bowl and the Seahawks defense is getting ready for the biggest challenge of the season – the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.

Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall definitely isn't resting. He's been game-planning for the better part of the last ten days hoping to figure out a way to halt the vaunted Steeler running game and an emerging star at quarterback.

Marshall has the tools, but it remains to be seen if he can use his speedy, yet undersized defense to stop the proverbial "snowball rolling down a hill" that is the Pittsburgh offense.

One cog of the stop unit is getting rest even though he would rather be doing the opposite. Ray Rhodes, the third-year defensive coordinator of the Hawks, suffered two strokes in August and has been replaced by Marshall on an interim basis since the start of the season.

Even though he has been making the defensive calls, Marshall makes sure everyone within earshot knows who is still in charge.

"This is Ray's defense and scheme," Marshall said during media day at the Super Bowl. "Nothing has changed. The only thing is that there's not a guy with black hair sitting in the chair, there's a guy with white hair.

"We've gotten a lot of satisfaction, but aren't fully satisfied yet. To see the guys come on, get better and really improve has been great for all of us."

Even though Rhodes was incapacitated and unable to attend practices, he did manage to make his way up to the booth for most of the Hawks home games and at one point almost cost himself a seat with the other coaches.

"He almost got kicked out of the box by me," Marshall said with a laugh. "I told him, ‘I'm not going to allow you to be the cause of number three'."

Two reasons why Marshall and Rhodes can rest easier this week is the presence of two sensational rookie linebackers.

Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill performed better than almost everyone expected this season and both have played well beyond their years. Tatupu took over the middle of the defense before the start of the season and never relinquished his spot leading the team with 105 tackles while also posting four sacks and three interceptions including one for a touchdown.

Hill got off to a delayed start, being used in a reserve role by Marshall until veteran LB Jamie Sharper went out with an injury. He's flourished as the starter posting 68 tackles, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Both have speed to burn and both show instincts you just can't teach.

"Our two young guys have done a great job. They work very hard and fit in well," Marshall said.

"It was a matter of opportunity," Tatupu said of his rookie season. "A lot of guys can do the same thing given the right situation. I don't think it's anything more than that."

Many would argue with that statement and point to the leadership he displayed in taking over the defensive calls.

"I think that Grant Wistrom is the true leader of this defense," the rookie from USC said humbly. "I think I've been thrown in that role because I'm the (middle) linebacker and that's a part of what it entails with the responsibility of the Mike. I just try to do the best I can."

Wistrom sees one trait in Tatupu that seems to be the consensus for all those close to the franchise.

"He is a guy that puts the team first, that studies hard, takes his job very seriously and when he steps on the field there is nothing on his mind but playing football," Wistrom said. "That's why he has been so successful this season.

"The first day of minicamp he came in and assumed control of the defense right away and in the right way. He didn't come in and say, ‘I'm the man.' He just came in there and led by example. He was respectful and was professional from Day 1."

The foe the Hawks face on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are known for their power-running game and it all starts up front according to Wistrom.

"They're great," Wistrom said of the Steelers offensive line. "(Jeff) Hartings and (Alan) Faneca are obviously two Pro Bowlers and they do a fantastic job. We don't hear a whole lot about Hartings and Faneca out there (in Seattle), but they are two great offensive linemen and deserve all the credit they get."

DT Chartric Darby also understands the challenge ahead of the Hawk defense.

"You have to bring your ‘A' game," Darby said. "I have played Pittsburgh a couple of times in Tampa and they are a very physical team. You have to come out there and match their intensity.

"They have a great quarterback, two good running backs that can change up. You have (Willie) Parker who can stretch the field and run outside and then you have (Jerome) Bettis that's going to run between the tackles. So we have our hands full."

Second-year Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is a player that, as a rookie, didn't keep teams up at night worrying, but his presence this season has been vastly different.

"Watching (Roethlisberger) on tape, for a guy that size, he moves around pretty well," Seahawks DT Rocky Bernard said. "That's one thing we have to do because once he scrambles, he makes a lot of plays throwing across the field."

Pittsburgh features one outstanding wideout in Hines Ward (69 catches for 975 yards and 11 touchdowns) and several receivers who play their roles well including Antwaan Randle El (35 catches) and Cedric Wilson (26). TE Heath Miller (39) also gets in the act and is a big-time redzone threat (six touchdowns).

Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant draws the distinction of following Ward all over the field.

"I don't know if you can totally stop him," Trufant admitted. "He's a great receiver and he's going to get his catches, but you want to try to minimize his big gains and I think it's going to take the whole defense to do that."

The front seven will be responsible for pressuring Roethlisberger and disrupting his timing as much as possible.

"A sack and a good rush – that's the best coverage you could have," Trufant said. "So when they guys are up there working hard, getting it done, it makes our lives a lot easier on the back."

"I think with any quarterback, if you get to them early, it affects their rhythm," Wistrom added. "That's our philosophy going into any football game, not just facing Ben. But that is easier said than done.

"They have a great offensive line and a great protection scheme and they really change things up. You never know who is blocking who, so, like I said, it's a lot easier said than done."

There's no rest for the wicked and this Sunday there won't be any rest for Seattle's defense.

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