Q&A: Dick LeBeau

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau took some time recently to discuss the past Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers and the play in that game of Troy Polamalu.

Q: What are some of your thoughts on the last Super Bowl?

DL: Well, playoff games, particularly the further you go, often are going to be one or two-play type games. Both sides of the field are so evenly matched. You're going to be playing good football teams in the playoffs. I think the Super Bowl was reflective of that. It was going to be a play here or a play there. You're not going to play against the Green Bay offense and not have them have some plays. I thought that if we could keep their points down around 17 or 18 that it would give us a very good chance to win. One of their touchdowns was an interception return, so we were close. Was it our best game? No. but it was not our worst game either. We had a chance to win it in our last possession. We kept the game in balance. I don't think any of our guys played poorly. I don't think it was our best played game.

We have been blessed here that in all of the key big games that we've gotten to in recent years have ended up going our way. Well, that's not going to happen if you're good enough to keep getting there. That was our third time in six years.

Would I wish that it had turned out with us winning? I do. But I realize we could've lost to the Jets or we could've lost to Baltimore in the second game of the regular season and maybe been on the road every week in the playoffs. So, those close games, competitive games against good teams, can go either way, and I think that's what the Super Bowl was. They made a couple turnover plays, and, defensively, if I had to critique us, I would say we didn't turn the ball over any. Had we done so, I think we might have won the game by a point or two. But to say that any of our guys played poorly, I think if you look at the yardage comparisons I think we outgained them (387-338). You can say statistics are for losers or whatever, but it was not a game that was decided until the game was over, and so neither team, I don't think, has to come out of that game saying, ‘God, we played poorly.'

Can we play better? I'm sure we can, or we wouldn't have lost the game. But I don't beat myself up second-guessing our players in that game. I do not.

Q: After the game, Aaron Rodgers was talking about how he repeatedly tried to make Troy Polamalu bite on a play he had bitten on previously, but that it wasn't working. What can you tell me about that?

DL: Everyone talks about game plans, but the most important ingredient of a game plan, in my mind, is flexibility. When you get in the stadium, what you planned for, they may not even have the same people on the field that they played the last three weeks. They may have a totally different idea of how to attack you. So, I think that's part of what you're seeing there. They figured they could get this or that against us, and when they got out there in the game they couldn't get it. I thought the way the game went, particularly in the second half, I think we had three or four straight holds (four) right in there where we were getting the ball back pretty regularly and our guys were running the ball, and controlling the ball game really. Their quarterback made some wonderful plays against us there in that last drive and there wasn't enough time for us to overcome it, unfortunately. We had to do it in that last drive and they got off the field with an interception and we came up short.

There was no consistency moving the ball on either side. It was just a good, hard-fought, close, tough football game and that's why it was one of the better Super Bowls.

From my standpoint, the wrong team won, but our guys are always going to compete and I think always play pretty hard and always be in the game.

Q: Will you ever participate in a Super Bowl that doesn't have a heart attack-type of finish?

DL: It's hard to have one of those though. If you look at our games, we don't play those kinds of games anyhow. We're always pretty close. Our games are always pretty close. But the good thing about our style of play is we can play the Jets, the Baltimores, and have it come our way as much as it goes the other way. The Jets are a wonderful team. Baltimore is a wonderful team. Just to get out of our conference is an accomplishment. To win our division and then our conference, I'm proud of that.

Q: Polamalu has been singled out for having played a poor game by many fans and analysts. What's your perspective on that?

DL: You know, there was a period of time when Troy wasn't really making the quote splash play this year. I thought that Troy was carrying the weight of that a little too much. If I see that – I may be right and I may be wrong – but I'll always talk to our guys if I see that, and I said, ‘Troy, look, you're playing good football, really good football, some of the best that you've played. And the nature of your position, you may go four games without an interception. It can readily happen, and then you may get two or three in one game. If you keep playing the way you're playing right now, the big plays are going to come.' Well, before the season was three-quarters of the way over, he had as many or more splash plays than he had in any year. So for me to pick out one game, Troy or our defense, when we didn't make a splash play, is not being consistent.

They made one against us, and when I say it's a one- or two-play game, that's what I'm talking about. They scored on an interception and took the ball away from us a couple of times and we didn't. That's always pretty critical in close games. But I would never say any one of our guys were the cause of that happening. I thought they played hard and for the most part played well. And I would say again, for print purposes, did we play our best game? No, because I think we would've won with our best game. But we were a helluva long way from our worst game. We were playing a great offense and I thought we played them competitively and we had a chance to win the game in the last possession. It just didn't happen.

Q: How much of a hindrance was Polamalu's ankle injury?

DL: Well, I don't think Troy was really a hundred percent till the Jet game.

Q: A hundred percent? But even then he was limping around the facility.

DL: But he was flying on the field. I'm used to seeing Troy. I know how Troy goes from point A to point B. I don't really need a medical report. I can tell. And I thought that he was covering everything by that time. I thought he was pretty close to 100 percent, and definitely in the Super Bowl he was moving OK.

Troy is such a fast reactor. He puts so much torque on the – and he's not little, so he's probably going to have some nagging problems that the average athlete doesn't have because the average athlete can never put that kind of stress on his body. He is just flying, and he's got instant reaction, change of direction. He's a fast person and he kind of belies it with his overall build. Fast, real fast guys are usually a little more linear, but he's kind of a stocky-built guy that can just flat fly. And he's got the body weight putting a lot of stress on the torque, as we say, from your sports car. He would be a true jaguar 'cause he's flyin'. So it's not unusual for him to have to play through some nagging injuries. We felt fortunate that he could play 'cause we're just a better team when he plays – statistically and everything else – because he cuts off so many of those other types of plays. There's only one him in the league, and we got him. So are we going to miss him when he's not out there? Yeah. He shuts the door pretty good when he's out there.

Q: Does it simply come down to whether you're facing a hot quarterback, like Tom Brady and Rodgers last season?

DL: I think Rodgers played very well at certain periods of that game, certainly in that last drive he had a couple of balls. And the second touchdown pass couldn't have been anyplace else or we would've got it. Ryan [Clark] was right behind it and James [Harrison] was in pretty good coverage. He just put it in there.

Q: Troy took the blame for the touchdown over the middle.

DL: Yeah. That wasn't Troy's.

Q: I think he's too humble and takes too much blame.

DL: That's all right. It's working.

Q: Yet, that humility casts doubt on the truth.

DL: Well, let's put it this way: He's probably the best safety playing, so he ain't gonna have much blame to take anyhow because not very many plays happen when he's out there.

Q: Is he better than Ed Reed?

DL: I don't think there's any question that he is. Now, I may be somewhat prejudiced, but I'm talking about from the standpoint of everything that he can do. I don't think there's a safety in the game that can match him. I think Reed's a wonderful safety. He's a great interceptor. He's got great speed. Troy is so much more impactful in the running game. He just shows up all over the field. There's arguably no safety that can do everything, ever, the way Troy can do it. I think Reed has so many big plays because when he gets the ball he's hard to get on the ground, too. He's a great interceptor. They're both safeties who if you're playing quarterback against them you kind of want to know where they are. But the nod goes to Troy in my mind because of his overall versatility. I mean you don't see Reed blitz that much. You can blitz Troy. You can blitz him 10 times a game because he's almost 210 pounds. He'll hold up. If he's got to get an offensive lineman, he'll hold up on him. I just don't think there's anybody playing that can match his versatility in any way shape or form. He's the best.

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