Do you think the Cardinals have a chance against the Steelers?
I think it's a tough matchup for the Steelers. I really do. Out of all the teams in the playoffs in the NFC, this was the worst matchup for the Steelers. Arizona is a good football team. Their defense is solid and the way you beat a 3-4 defense is to spread them out and hit them in the seams. Arizona can do that. It's going to be a tough day for the Steelers.
So you think it will be a close game?
I think it will be a real close game.
Is there too much made about schemes versus players?
Schemes are part of it. Coaches say they're going to put the players in the best position to make plays, but that's the system. The system does that but the difference is that on a good team, the offensive or defensive coordinator can call a play, but the player still has to make the play come alive. You hit a slant with Larry Fitzgerald and he can break some tackles and take it the whole way, jumping over the pylon for a touchdown. You can do the same thing on defense with Troy Polamalu last week. He's covering a guy, he read the eyes of the quarterback and picked the ball off. He made the play come alive. The players do make the play come alive. You can have a great system, but if the players don't play within that system and make the plays come alive, it doesn't work.
What about a guy like James Harrison? A lot of people seem to think he was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year because of the system.
That's crazy. He's getting blocked every time. The one thing that's good about a 3-4 defense is that's it's tough to count out who's coming. That's the tough thing. You have four linebackers, three down linemen. When you're in your base 3-4, both outside linebackers are in a position where they look like they're going to blitz. How do you slide the protection? Do you slide it to (LaMarr) Woodley, then Harrison's free - he's not free, but he's going to be one-on-one with a tackle or tight end. If you do the opposite, you've got Woodley. Then you start sliding to both and (Dick LeBeau) is going to middle blitz you to death. It's really tough to cover it up. I like James Harrison. I think he's very similar to Greg Lloyd. His disposition, he doesn't laugh a lot. He's really serious. To me, he's just like Greg Lloyd, but shorter. He has the same disposition. He's mean. He doesn't like talking to the media. It's the same type of player. Greg Lloyd and James Harrison, if they didn't make big plays, how good would they be? He still has to make plays, he has to beat tackles, he has to get past the backs if he gets caught up with them. He's making plays. I think it's a great story what he's done with his life.
What about the Steelers' linebacking tradition?
It's linebacker U. I don't know why so many great linebackers come through. You need a lot of good linebackers to run a 3-4 defense. Really, the Steelers have five, they don't have four. You have to throw (Lawrence) Timmons into that as well because he plays so much. They have five linebackers who could start anywhere in the National Football League. That's a plus for Dick LeBeau because he can dial them up and they make a lot of plays.
So they get rid of Joey Porter and just plug in Harrison.
There was a dropoff last year, really in the secondary. When you blitz zone, it's basically man-to-man. The concept of the zone blitz, the corner doesn't have to read the second receiver. When you zone blitz, you're going to drop and you've got the guy in front of you and the linebacker or inside linebacker might cover the seam. But on the back end, you have to cover them up. The one thing the Steelers have done this year is that they have played extremely well in the secondary. They've played better football in the secondary than in previous years. That's been their Achilles heel the last couple of years, the secondary did not play well. This year, they're playing extremely well.
What is it that makes Hines Ward a good football player?
I used to ask myself that when I played against him. He's not fast. He's not big. I don't how the guy gets open but he does. I know when I played in Baltimore, Hines and I had a little riff. Bill (Cowher) came up to me after one game and said, ‘Rod, you would love to play with this guy.' I think that's true. I love to watch the guy play. But when you play against him, you really dislike him. When you play with him, you're going to say, ‘Man, that's my guy.' He's always smiling and hitting you in the back of the head. He's a tough cookie. He can hit you and he always has that little grin. That gets on everybody's nerves. He'll be smiling after he hits you. He's a good player and he gets it done.
Is this game a classic case of a great offense against a great defense?
I think it's a tough matchup for the Steelers. The way you beat a 3-4 defense is that you spread them out and you hit them in the seams. That's what the Cardinals do, they spread you out and they hit you in the seams. I think everybody's saying the Arizona Cardinals lucked into it. Nah. You don't luck into it when you get to the Super Bowl. They're a good football team. They're solid on defense. It's going to be interesting to see how Ken Whisenhunt, who knows that defense, puts this game plan together. You go back to last year and you look at Kurt Warner running that two-minute offense against the Steelers and they beat them. I don't think they were as good then as they are this year, offensive and definitely not defensively. I think it's going to be a good matchup.
What if you had a team with the Arizona offense with the Steelers defense?
You'd probably have the best team in the league. That's a great scenario, but it's not going to happen. The Steelers are what they are. They've got Ben (Roethlisberger). What I like about Ben is that he's not having a great year, but the Steelers' best play is when Ben gets out of the pocket. That's crazy. It's like sandlot. He gets out of the pocket and he's scrambling around and he's telling a guy to go over there or over there. He's making plays. What you need to do is keep him in the pocket. The key is rushing the edges and making him step up in the pocket. When he gets out of the pocket, the guy's big and strong. That's a big guy. That's when he makes all of his plays. If you keep him inside the pocket, you get him out of his comfort zone. When he's inside the pocket, you can get after him a little bit more. But if you don't have the edges and you let him get out of that pocket, it could be a long day for the Arizona Cardinals. The thing about Ben is that he scrambles to throw the football. He's not looking to run. I think we saw that in ‘05 in the Super Bowl. He had about five seconds in the flat all by himself. He was looking at the guy rushing him and he threw the long one to Hines Ward and Hines caught it at the 2-yard-line. That's Ben Roethlisberger. That's what he's trying to do. He wants to get out of that pocket and look down the field and let his receivers make plays.
What about Dermontti Dawson and the Hall of Fame?
Let me tell you about Dermontti, he's the first center I've ever seen to snap the ball and pull and lead. The guy was incredible. He was a tremendous athlete. This guy could slam the basketball any way you wanted it. I couldn't believe it. And he was the strongest guy on the team. He's the best athlete I've ever seen. You go from Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson and there was no dropoff. Dermontti is a tremendous athlete. You talk to all of the linebackers and guys who played against him, they're going to tell you how good he was. He was a tremendous player and I really hope he's given his due because he really was the best linemen I've ever seen.