Failure Not an Option

The best run defense in the NFL over the last deccade will face an option team in the playoffs on Sunday, and Mike Prisuta says the Steelers had better respect it.

It's all about Tim Tebow, or so it seems.

But for the Steelers it's about run defense.

The Steelers played that well enough this season to finish eighth in the NFL in that category on the way to finishing first in the NFL in total defense and first in scoring defense.

But they were also gashed on occasion, for openers in Baltimore (170 rushing yards hemorrhaged) at Houston (180) and by Jacksonville at home (133).

The Steelers were uncharacteristically susceptible enough against the run this season to allow more than 100 yards on the ground in three of their last five games and in four of their last seven.

So they're about three bricks shy of impenetrable.

This brings us to Denver, the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense.

The Broncos got 660 of their franchise-record 2,632 yards on the ground from Tebow, who runs a read-option attack the likes of which no one who plays defense for the Steelers has any recent experience defending. They got 1,199 more yards from Willis McGahee, a power back with whom the Steelers are well acquainted. Denver also got significant yards on option-pitches, orbit motions and other such sleight-of-hand trickery.

Mike Tomlin has insisted this Denver approach isn't like the old "Oklahoma- and Nebraska-type option."

But Brett Keisel can still remember his last experience with an option-type team, and it isn't a fond memory.

"It's been a long time," Keisel conceded. "In college (at BYU), Air Force ran a pretty good option.

"They smoked us."

Denver's offense won't look like Air Force, either. But it'll be dependent upon traditional McGahee runs and option curveballs to the extent that any pregame analyzing of Tebow the passer is a waste of time.

He'll throw a few, but the Broncos aren't winning or losing on his arm.

Even they know that by now.

The Broncos will live or die on the ground. They'll line up with seven or eight across the offensive line a lot of the time and they'll keep coming in an attempt to possess the ball and play field position and kick field goals and maybe get an odd touchdown or two and stay in it long enough to figure out a way to win it in the fourth quarter.

They either will or they won't and the Steelers' run defense will have a great deal to say about what happens either way.

Pitchouts aren't necessarily a Denver staple, but they're incorporated in the Denver offense. And there will come a time or two or more when a Steelers defender, an outside linebacker or a safety or a cornerback, whoever happens to have the pitch man, will find himself in the instinctually contradictory position of having to run away from the ball.

"Right," Keisel confirmed.

Keisel thinks they can pull it off, even if their defense, when operating at peak efficiency, is normally one that habitually flows to the ball and gang-tackles like no other.

"When you get out on the field you have a job to do and you have a responsibility when the ball is snapped," Keisel continued. "For the most part we've done a pretty good job of that.

"We just need to continue that in the playoffs."

In Denver and beyond.

James Farrior concurs. He's focused on the nuts and bolts rather than what ESPN keeps insisting is the story.

"You definitely gotta be prepared for their running game, not just Tim Tebow," Farrior said. "We gotta be prepared for anything they try to throw at us. We're going to be ready for it all.

"Keep your eyes on what you're supposed to be looking at and usually they'll get you to where you need to be. I'm watching the linemen, the pulling guards. I'm not really watching Tebow too much because he's going to give you a whole lot of different looks.

"You're never going to have a guy running the ball and the linemen not being there. Watch the linemen and you'll be good to go."


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