Steelers Hone Tackling Skills for New Era

It's a change the Pittsburgh Steelers have fought every step of the way, but Mike Prisuta's convinced it's a change to which they are adapting.

It's always fun to bitch about officiating. And there will be times this season when that fun degenerates into absolute outrage, when the Steelers will be screaming bloody murder and spouting off about targeting and conspiracies and the like.

As Bubby Brister might say, you can write it down.

But two plays in Saturday night's 34-16 preseason triumph over Atlanta suggest in no uncertain terms that the Steelers have at least accepted if not approved of the NFL's new way of doing things, and that they're willing to go along to get along.

The first was a clean blitz by Larry Foote on what became a 9-yard completion from Chris Redman to Andy Strickland late in the third quarter.

The second was a hit by Ryan Mundy just after Kerry Meier proved unable to haul in a Redman pass over the middle early in the fourth quarter. On both occasions hits were made and Steelers defense was played and penalty flags were nowhere to be found.

Foote hit Redman hard and in a timely fashion, and resisted the urge to drive Redman through the Heinz Field turf on the follow through.

Mundy did what he thought he was allowed to do in an attempt to dislodge the ball from Meier's grasp, assuming Meier still had it (he didn't).

No harm, no foul said the zebras.

"Cut your ear off," Foote explained. "That's how you're taught to hit, head to the side and make sure (it's) shoulder first. Especially with quarterbacks, you gotta make sure you run through them but don't put your head on them."

Added Mundy: "As soon as I hit him I looked back at the ref and asked him if it was a good hit. He said ‘yeah.' It's tough because I hit that guy with my whole shoulder. I didn't even touch him with another part of my body. And that's a lot of force on your shoulder so there are still some things I have to clean up in that area.

"It happened so fast it's hard to really fine-tune your technique with that. I didn't really run through him. I kind of slowed up. I really didn't give him a power shot. He felt the hit. He definitely felt the hit. I've talked about it with Ryan Clark. I've talked about it with Troy (Polamalu). It's tough."

Tough in that Mundy couldn't be certain his hit would have dislodged the ball had Meier still been in possession of it (power shots are normally more of a sure thing).

And tough in that there's no guarantee the next set of officials won't interpret a similar hit as coming against a defenseless receiver.

But as time passes and players become more comfortable with how they must now play the game, as the adjustments become as second nature as launching used to be and for many defenders still is, we should see less controversy and hear less carping and be able to focus more on the big picture that is the game, as opposed to how it's being officiated.

That's not to suggest we've seen the last of flags and fines, even if the Steelers have enjoyed a clean preseason along those lines.

"We still have a long road to go," Mundy said. "We still have a real long road to go. It's still kind of tough to gauge right now. I would like to see no fines, but the likelihood of that happening ... we're just going to continue to play physical and if a flag comes, a flag comes.

"If we incur a few fines, that's just the nature of the game."

Added Foote: "We got money to the side. If you play defense you'd better."


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