Steelers ripe to end 43-year spell

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't won in Philadelphia since 1965, but now they're the ones with West Coast shutdown man Dick LeBeau. The Steelers will do it the old-fashioned way: They'll get physical.

Dick LeBeau verified the facts:
  • Steelers over Seahawks (21-0) and 49ers (37-16) last season.
  • Steelers over Bucs (20-3) in 2006.
  • Steelers over Packers (20-10) and Seahawks (21-10) in 2005.
  • Steelers over Eagles (27-3) in 2004.
  • All West Coast offenses, right Dick?

    "Yes," said the Steelers' defensive coordinator since 2004.

    Could LeBeau remember the last time he lost to a team with a West Coast offense?

    "Well," he said as a smile crossed his face, "there was this guy named Joe Montana ..."

    LeBeau drifted off. It was unofficial, of course. LeBeau can't remember specifics of his long history of wins, but he certainly remembers the great Montana carving his guts out when he was coordinating the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.

    LeBeau designed his zone-blitz scheme way back in the mid 1980s as a way to stop the run-and-shoot, but it's also done well against the West Coast offense. Montana may have beaten him, but none have since 2004.

    And against those six teams LeBeau's most recent Steelers have defeated, the Steelers allowed an average of only seven points per game, or three touchdowns in four years.

    This afternoon's opponent, the host Philadelphia Eagles, have been a big proponent of the West Coast offense under 15-year Coach Andy Reid. He has the mobile quarterback, the pass-catching back, and the deep threat to make it work. But once again, LeBeau has the necessary pieces on defense, namely Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons. Either can blitz, cover Brian Westbrook out of the backfield, or shadow quarterback Donovan McNabb. If last week's game was a natural fit for the Steelers' base defense, this one has "sub-packages" written all over it.

    "Yeah," LeBeau said. "They're going to put three and four wide receivers out there on first down a lot, and you're going to have to match up and get a few more DBs out there with them. I think that's an accurate statement."

    LeBeau broke into the NFL coaching ranks with the Eagles way back in 1973, but it's been even longer since the Steelers have won in Philadelphia. It was Mike Nixon's first and penultimate NFL coaching win with the Steelers, but after that 1965 win the Steelers lost there in 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1979, 1991 and 1997.

    Is it the hostile fans? The hate-filled atmosphere?

    "W.C. Fields had on his tombstone, ‘Better here than in Philadelphia,' but I thought it was really a great city to live in," LeBeau said. "And if you like history, like I do, it's a great place to live. Now, if your team's not doing real well, sometimes they'd have some pretty good critiques in the stands, but it's a good city. It really is."

    The Steelers have spent the week answering to past woes in The City of Brotherly Love, and they insist they're focused. They'd better be. The 1-1 Eagles are third in the NFL in offense behind McNabb (2nd 642 passing yards), Westbrook (1st 5 touchdowns) and 167-pound rookie deep threat DeSean Jackson (11th 12 receptions). But LeBeau's defense held Westbrook to 21 yards total offense in 2004, and current free safety Ryan Clark has an idea of how they got it done.

    "The one thing you've got to do when you play a team like this is you've got to hit these guys," said Clark. He was asked why that wouldn't be the plan every Sunday.

    "Some teams like contact," he said. "I know when we played in Jacksonville that Monday night game two years ago, I was hitting them and they were coming right back and hitting me. There were times I'd get the best of them, and they'd get up happier than I was, like they were coming to get me the next play.

    "Every team's not built that way. The Steelers are built like that. If someone hits Hines (Ward), you can believe that by the end of that game they're going to have to deal with him again. Whereas Philly, if you hit them, they're like, ‘OK, that's cool.' And they'll come back and try to hit you with a bomb. But the more you hit on a team like that, and wear on a team like that, it's harder for them to get their legs up for that post route late in the game."

    And if that happens, and the Steelers live up to their offensive potential against an average to below-average Eagles defense, LeBeau will hear the fans providing their "critiques" again.

    "That certainly is the goal," he said.

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