A game against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense meant physical play, relentless pressure on the QB, swarming linebackers and safeties, and last but not least, big hits. Offensive touchdowns once seemed to come about as frequently as skill players hobbling to the sideline. Field goals came about as often as defensive safeties, and long drives came about as often as long interception returns for touchdowns. In short, defense in Pittsburgh used to be fun.
Unfortunately, in recent seasons, fear of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been replaced with anticipation. Pressure on the QB has been replaced with pressure on linebackers to make plays. Hobbling skill players have been replaced with dejected cornerbacks, and devastating blows have been replaced with devastating third down conversions.
The 2004 season may mark a turn of fortunes for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. So far in 2004, the Steelers' defense has been quietly but steadily progressing with both the re-install of Dick LeBeau's schemes and the re-injection of youth and speed into the secondary. Before our eyes, the recurring Steelers' weakness of pass defense is quietly becoming a team strength.
When all is said and done, and the 2004 season is in the books, the Chris Hope tattoo on Lamar Gordon that ended Gordon's season could be remembered as the play that woke up the sleeping giant that is the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense. Said Hope of his hit: "I hope that sends a message for the entire Pittsburgh Steelers' defense that we're going to be aggressive, fast and dictate the tempo of the game."
For the Hope Hit to spark the revival, the cocky one-ups-man-ship that once pervaded on defense must also return. Each Steeler defender must take it upon himself to deliver the aftershocks of the Hope Hit. The players must continue to incite themselves with yet another big hit against the Bengals and then another against the Browns. "That's one thing we thrive on," Hope said. "That was a tradition built way before we came -- the hard-hitting and fast defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We're just trying to go out and be part of the legacy."
A few more hobbling skill players are a necessity if these Steelers are to officially become part of the legacy. Defenses of Steelers' past know that an intimidating defense can throw off the timing in a passing game before the game even starts. To take the next step from good to great, the Steelers defense must recapture its role as an intimidator.
"I think collectively, that was the best game this defense played," said Troy Polamalu. Granted, right now the Miami Dolphins resemble the Dolphins' "replacement" team from a strike-shortened 1987 more than a traditional NFL franchise. But a little confidence, and a few big hits, can go a long way. Especially with two young safeties just learning the joys of the kill shot.
The Formula Man
The Duce Formula²: Poor Rush Defense² + Duce = 100 yards²? Expect Duce to make it consecutive 100 yard games against the NFL's 31st ranked rush defense. The Formula Man called it last week so why jump off the wagon with the Bengals coming to town? We also didn't see Colclough on returns so we'll count that as duce for duce.
The QB Formula: Big + Strong + Confident + Poised = Ladies and Gentlemen, we may just have a QB. Time will tell what kind of NFL QB Ben Roethlisberger will become. What we already know is that he is easily the most gifted QB to toss passes in these parts since Terry Bradshaw. You also have to love what seems to be going on up-stairs with the rookie. Said Ben about his game opening interception in his first start: "To tell you the truth, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be (against Miami), especially after that first pass I threw, which was a pretty good one. It hit (Patrick) Surtain right in the chest." Sarcasm? Personally, I was both upset and nervous after that pass. But I guess the rookie wasn't. Another very good sign, because a less confident QB could have gone into the tank - literally. "I just laughed at myself. There was nothing I could do but laugh." I'm laughing with you Ben. Now let's giggle our way to the Superbowl you big goofball.
The Playoffs Formula: Solid Defense + Solid Running Game + Solid QB = Playoffs? I noticed that, after Ben's first game at QB, the Steelers seemed to shoot up in most NFL rankings. Coincidence? I think not.
Hope's KO of Lamar Gordon could be a turning point
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