Lack Of Defensive Production Not Worrying Steelers

Erik Totten might be a young back-up but he wasn't about to take cheap shots from anybody, so he fired back at rookie receiver Brian Robinson yesterday. <br><br> Totten pinned Robinson quickly and when he was peeled off he found he was the center of attention of a pack of barking dogs, also known as defensive players with chips on their shoulders.

"It was a good, energized practice," said Coach Bill Cowher. "There was some misdirected energy, but it was good. It's a short week and we've got to get some work done."

The defense in particular has some ground to gain because the numbers through two preseason games aren't very encouraging. The defense this year wanted to limit third-down conversions, put more pressure on the quarterback and force more turnovers. Alas, it has accomplished none of that so far.

The defense is allowing third downs to be converted 46 percent of the time, has two sacks and hasn't forced a turnover. Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, of course, remains unfazed by the numbers. He likes the enthusiasm.

"I'm pleased with where we're going," he said. "I still know we have a long way to go to get to where we want to go but I'm not dissatisfied with their effort."

Effort's one thing. Production is quite another. The Steelers have allowed 30 first-half points to go along with their lack of turnovers, sacks and success on third downs.

"We had a couple takeaways the other night that we had them taken away from," Lewis said of fumbles forced by James Farrior and Terrence Robinson that were ruled incompletions.

"You know how they are. They come in bunches. They come when they come. We'll just keep running to the ball and getting to the ball as hard as we can and the takeaways will come. The pressure's getting there. Again, people throw quick rhythm against us. The other night [Donovan McNabb] wasn't even taking two steps. We were getting the quarterback hit and he was on the ground. Pressure's just as good."

Nose tackle Casey Hampton may have put more pressure on Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks than any of the Steelers. Rookie David Upchurch had the team's only sack, but Hampton, who's lost 12 pounds since reporting to camp at 338 pounds, was credited with three quarterback pressures, including one forced incompletion that could've been ruled intentional grounding.

"I think overall the whole front is getting good pressure," said defensive end Aaron Smith. "It wasn't the same guy every time, so it was kind of nice. A different guy on every play was getting pressure. He was throwing them pretty quick Saturday night. They weren't holding it long. They spread it out and got rid of it but I thought we played well."

Cowher agreed. After Monday's enthusiastic practice, he said he hopes his team practices as well this week as it did last week.

"I thought both lines played very well the other night," Cowher said. "That was very encouraging to see. We played with a lot of energy. I liked how we played."

But the Eagles had the edge in turnovers, as did the Detroit Lions the previous week. It's followed last season's trend in which the Steelers were 0-5-1 when opponents had the better turnover margin, while the Steelers were 9-0 when they had the turnover edge. The Steelers haven't lost a regular-season game in which they held the edge in turnovers since Sept. 24, 2000. In the last three regular seasons, the Steelers are 26-2 when holding the edge in turnovers.

But turnovers are typically caused by a heavy pass rush, and only Upchurch and Brett Keisel, defensive linemen, have sacks this preseason.

"Give us a couple games in the regular season to see how things are," said Smith. "We've got guys playing with different groups and stuff. It's early. We've played two teams that throw a lot of rhythm passing right now. It's hard to get to the quarterbacks of those teams."

It was a problem last season, too. According to Lewis, the Steeler have adjusted to the quick-rhythm passing attacks by using more press coverage with their cornerbacks.

"They're much closer and tighter than they were," Lewis said. "Look at the stats. I don't think the Eagles came close to their average passing yardage from last year."

The Steelers allowed the Eagles to throw for 133 yards. Last season, the Eagles averaged 212 yards passing. The Steelers allowed 240 yards passing on average last season.

"With some of our four-man rushes we're not having to fire-zone or blitz-zone or come up with exotic blitzes just to get pressure," Lewis said. "We're making the quarterbacks move. The sacks will start coming, and with them so will the turnovers."

Jim Wexell

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