LeBeau Fine, But Are The Safeties?

PITTSBURGH -- Bill Belichick started this whole Tom Brady vs. the Steelers' safeties back in 2007 when he said ...

... of Anthony Smith, "We've played against a lot better safeties than him. ... The safety play at that position was pretty inviting."

That was after Brady had dissected Steelers starting safeties Smith and Tyrone Carter for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 34-13 Patriots win that was 17-13 at halftime and erupted in the second half.

Sound familiar?

Or was that the 2002 game in which Brady called 36 passes on the game's first 41 plays and dissected Steelers safeties Brent Alexander and Lethon Flowers for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns?

That was a 30-14 New England win that was 10-7 at halftime and erupted in the second half.

So even that's similar to the game last Sunday in which Brady threw for 432 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 55-31 Patriots win that, yes, erupted out of a 24-24 third-quarter tie.

The three games that Brady played against the Steelers at Gillette Stadium have followed the same script. In total, he's thrown for 1,125 yards, 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a 127.9 passer rating and of course a 3-0 record.

And even these Steelers safeties are coming under fire. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark both made critical mistakes that allowed big plays, and both admitted to such because, according to Polamalu, "Safeties have a huge role within this defense."

That's probably why so many are calling for rookie Shamarko Thomas, who's waiting in the wings, playing deep on passing downs, is up to snuff on the playbook, and is just waiting for his first snap in the base defense.

But before these safeties stood up Wednesday to answer all such questions, they were asked about Dick LeBeau. Is he being unfairly criticized in town these days?

"I'm not aware what people's opinions are outside of the room, and in truth they're not relevant to me anyway," Polamalu said. "I know where the breakdowns were. They had nothing to do with schematics. He's in my opinion the best, still the best."

Clark was more harsh with reporters.

"I think for the most part you guys sometimes overestimate your worth in our lives, how much your words resonate with us," he said. "There is nothing that anyone can say outside of our group that would ever bother me about Coach LeBeau. We know what type of man he is; we know what he means to us; we know how much passion and love Coach LeBeau puts in, not only to what we do as football players but to what we do as men. So, we don't have to defend him. His resume speaks for itself."

It's obvious, from the aforementioned statistics, that Brady and the Patriots have had LeBeau's number, particularly at Gillette Stadium.

So what's the change?

"Think back to the last Super Bowl year we had," Clark said. "We had a very good defense, one of the top defenses in the NFL. (Brady) comes here, puts up 39 points rather easily. ... (This time) he did a good job of capitalizing when we made misakes. But, not taking anything away from him, if we played the defenses correctly, he doesn't have as easy of a time making those plays. We made it a little easier on him than we should have."

Right. It's the players. But is it the safeties in particular?

Clark is 34 and playing in the final year of his contract. He would appear to be nearing the end, but his teammates point out how he's had to keep an extra eye on a run game that's in the very inconsistent hands of two rookie linebackers, as well as a first-time starter at nose tackle.

"When you had the run-stoppers we've had here traditionally, people couldn't run it no matter how many we had in the box," Clark said. "If it was a seven-man box they couldn't run it. So cornerbacks, they played the pass constantly. Safeties were able to constantly stay deep. When you have problems stopping the run, other people feel like they have to come in and do different things. That's when it gets hard. That's when you become susceptible to play-action passes."

That's when you become susceptible to Tom Brady.

As for Polamalu, he's 32 and next year would be the final year of his contract.

Will there be a next year here for Polamalu?

"God willing," he said in the affirmative.

Polamalu started strong this season, but is coming off a rocky performance in New England, particularly in coverage.

"You could point your finger at whatever mistakes there are," Polamalu said. "All I know is they're correctable and we'll have an opportunity to correct them this weekend."

God willing.

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