LeBeau knows Pats' RB all too well

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Legend -- or in this case the Miami Herald -- has it that Corey Dillon once was so peeved about playing for the Cincinnati Bengals that he wore a Steelers hat to a team meeting.

"Are you trying to tell me something?" Marvin Lewis asked him.

"Whatever you think," Dillon told him.

The incident reportedly happened last year.

"I don't know anything about that," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

But LeBeau, the Bengals coach during Dillon's best days there, knows more about Dillon than most, although LeBeau admits to knowing about Dillon's troubles by reputation only.

"Before we got there," LeBeau said of Cincinnati, "there were some things that were maybe a little controversial, but from my experience with him there was never anything that was any sort of a problem."

In fact, LeBeau recommended the running back to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick last off-season "because he played hard," LeBeau said. "He would make tremendous blocks. If an interception was thrown, he was usually the guy who would make the tackle. That's what this business is. You've got to produce, and he did that for me."

Dillon did that and more. In LeBeau's first win as head coach in Cincinnati, Dillon rushed for 278 yards against the Denver Broncos to break Walter Payton's single-game rushing record. LeBeau then went about changing the Bengals from a passing team under the shaky hand of then-quarterback Akili Smith to a run-first team featuring Dillon. That year Dillon gained 1,435 yards on 340 carries, personal highs until Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards on 345 yards for the Patriots this season.

Last week, Dillon was once again the Patriots' offensive headliner. He rushed for 144 yards, or 144 more than he gained against the Steelers on Halloween. Dillon didn't play that Sunday because of a thigh injury and the Patriots, who'd fallen behind 21-3 in the first quarter, rushed only 6 times for 5 yards in his absence.

But Dillon's back and he's the focal point of the offense, and LeBeau is in charge of shutting him down. LeBeau has coordinated the NFL's top run-stopping defense (81.2 ypg.) in his first season back as Bill Cowher's top assistant.

"I think our numbers speak for themselves," said LeBeau. "I've said continually it's our players. Our players have done a great job. I'm just the lucky guy that got to call the defenses."

Stopping an opposing running game has been priority 1-A in LeBeau's game plans all season, and it's almost guaranteed to happen. Only one back - Rudi Johnson of Cincinnati (123) - rushed for over 100 yards against the Steelers. The next best was Buffalo's Willis McGahee, who gained 79 yards against mostly second- and third-team Steelers in the regular-season finale.

The Steelers, of course, do more than stop the run under LeBeau. They allowed the fewest points (15.7) and the fewest yards (258.4) per game in the league this season. LeBeau was recently named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.

"It is a very different type of defense," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "I've been spending all day Monday and Tuesday getting ready, trying to get ready for (Wednesday)'s practice and the game plan. It's going to be a very difficult week."

And a very difficult weekend. But on Sunday, the Bengals will have a running back Brady can lean on. Without Dillon in the last game, the Patriots attempted twice spread the Steelers out with the same 5-wide receiver set that rolled over them in a 2002 game, but on both plays the Steelers forced turnovers and touchdowns.

Former Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, commenting on the failed deployment this week in Steelers Digest, wrote: "The Patriots had to realize that the Steelers are better coordinated now, more efficient; they are faster and the defense is better designed to get after the quarterback quickly, so I'd expect the Patriots to tighten their formation."

LeBeau was asked for a reaction to Hoge's commentary, but he only touched on one of the compliments.

"Well, we are a fast defense," LeBeau said. "We're just going to try to play good defense, try to keep our guys in it and make some plays at the end of the game and try to win it."

What about the terms "better coordinated" and "more efficient"? Doesn't LeBeau realize Belichick's not the only genius involved in this game?

"A genius is the guy from the other town," LeBeau said.


"It's an old saying. It means if you know a guy well enough, you know he's not a genius."

Corey Dillon would, and perhaps will, beg to differ.

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