After The Black And Gold Rush

Oh, he's just rubbing it in now. Tony Dungy refuses to blitz and now he's just shoving it in the face of Steelers fans, who remember the days when their team didn't have to blitz.

Yes, it's true. The Indianapolis Colts whipped the Steelers last night because they got there with four.

It's the greatest sentence in football. Forget about your deep passes, your power running game and your busy defensive schemes when you can get there with four. It's why the Steel Curtain, the front four, was the heart and soul of four Pittsburgh championships in the 1970s.

Dungy was a part of that, learned from it, devoured it, and Monday night spit it back in the face of his old team.

It was almost as if Dungy was making a point of it. He didn't blitz at all in the second half, when the Steelers had to pass because of the score. And he only called three first-half blitzes, all half-hearted delayed blitzes on the first series of each quarter.

Instead, the Colts' front four, led by Dwight Freeney and Corey Simon, dominated the game. Not that it was all that difficult against a Steelers offensive line with two hobbled tackles and an ineffective right guard (or was that one hobbled and two ineffective?).

One hobbled tackle left the game and was replaced by a rookie, who fared well enough against Freeney, considering the noise level in the dome and Trai Essex's inexperience.

Heath Miller helped Essex. And then, when it became apparent that Max Starks needed help from the tight end, the running backs helped Essex. Alan Faneca also helped him, while center Jeff Hartings helped right guard Kendall Simmons. Four Colts rushed and on nearly every play they were rushing against at least six Steelers, seven counting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

With Roethlisberger showing rust, and a backfield bereft of a true thoroughbred, seven Colts covered three, maybe four players most of the game. It was the recipe for disaster.

The Steelers didn't blitz much, either, save for late in the third quarter when they were desperate. But by contrast, the Steelers' four-man rush lacked sparkle. Yes, there was a sack and forced fumble by Joey Porter, and some early pressure from Clark Haggans, but these guys are linebackers, not defensive ends. They shouldn't be expected to consistently beat offensive tackles.

The Steelers have built themselves a gimmick defense that has become so steeped in tradition there can be little help on the horizon. In other words, they'll never "get there with four" under Bill Cowher.

Do you really expect the Steelers to draft a 268-pound pass rusher like Freeney in the first round? Nope. He can't drop into coverage. I'm sure you noticed that last night, particularly when Freeney didn't drop into coverage and instead ran over Marvel Smith's chest.

It's been the draft hope for awhile: Writers and fans pled their cases that a pure defensive end could be used on second and third downs in a four-man front; a nickel end, if you will. But the pleas fell on deaf ears, and the flop that was Alonzo Jackson may have knocked any such courage right out of the Steelers. Too bad, because they need to use Dungy's – or Chuck Noll's – cover 2 if they're going to beat Peyton Manning some day.

No, the Steelers will stick to their gimmicks under Cowher, kissing off any chance of ever truly dominating a game by consistently "getting there with four."

*****


Not that the Steelers' defense played poorly. Dick LeBeau mixed it up beautifully. The first play was the killer, and that 80-yard touchdown was all on Ike Taylor. He got caught peeking in the backfield while covering Marvin Harrison.

Just take that sentence in for a minute.

But Taylor recovered from his mistake to play a fine game otherwise.

Reggie Wayne had his moments, too. So did the Colts' tight ends. But Manning was often confused. He'll certainly study the Steelers' phony blitz alignments if the Steelers are fortunate enough to meet him again. That might be a good time for LeBeau to blitz more often.

Troy Polamalu made a beautiful interception out of a two-high secondary fronted by a five-man line. Again, Manning will spend time on this alignment if the teams meet again because it worked throughout the first half.

There was the 80-yard bomb, and then there were the three Colts field goals in the first half, but they were each helped by the poor play of the Steelers' offensive line. You can look it up. That gave the Colts a 16-7 halftime lead, and then there was the onsides kick that set up the back-breaking touchdown.

*****


First of all, let me just say how much I'm enjoying the new Bill Cowher. He's gone for several fourth-and-shorts this season in an obvious attempt to learn from playoff failures that've been grounded in conservatism. So, hail, hail the coach's aggressiveness. I'll keep that in mind before starting the next paragraph, because, as a coach likes to say, you want to teach the right way without taking away any of the pupil's aggressiveness.

But Bill, Bill, Bill, that onsides kick was forced. We knew that when TV analyst John Madden shared your pre-game thoughts. He said you wanted to open the game with an onsides kick, so obviously you would do this come hell or high water.

Remember that great call you made in the Super Bowl? You did that because you noticed on film the Dallas Cowboys were dropping too quickly into blocking mode. There was a soft spot in the zone, as you like to say. But on Monday night, no Colt dropped. It was clearly a forced call from a coach who wasn't in as desperate straits as he may have felt he was. The defense was playing well.

Anyway, love the aggression but not in this instance. And your kicker didn't help much in the execution. The ball didn't come close to traveling 10 yards.

And one more thing on your special teams before I go: Tell Ricardo Colclough to stay the hell away from the kickoffs. Put Willie Parker back there, or just let Quincy Morgan go it alone.

*****


OK, so the Colts' front four dominated the game but the Steelers' defense played well enough to win. So what's the problem?

Well, my gut tells me this was about as well as the Steelers' defense can play Peyton Manning. Yes, that allows for hope in the playoffs, but there's also an overwhelming sense of depression that follows a game in which a four-man line dominates. It's because it'll never happen here under Cowher no matter how well they draft. The New England Patriots showed the same ability in beating the Steelers in September and my despair following that game was similar.

Forget about finding a pass-rushing linebacker at the bottom of the first round. He won't have the size and speed to both drop into coverage and then line up as an intimidating end in a four-man front. It just won't happen.

The Steelers must instead focus on fixing their offense, the running game in particular. Willie Parker flashed in the fourth quarter, but the Colts had relaxed by then. Duce Staley is probably their best back, and he was promoted to third-down back, even first-down back Monday night. Yet, he didn't take full advantage of his opportunity, brief as it was. But this is the area of concern at the time. Running back, offensive lineman or even wide receiver should be addressed in the first round next April. Unless there's a sudden change in philosophy, look for the pass rusher, the next Greg Lloyd, where they've always looked: in the land of never-weres, hope-to-bes, and projects.


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