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News » Steelers: Defense isn't memorable yet

Steelers: Defense isn't memorable yet

Steelers: Defense isn't memorable yet
They missed their Statistical Fearsome Foursome by 3.3 rushing yards per game.

That's how far the Steelers finished behind the Minnesota Vikings in rushing defense.

Minnesota, No. 1 in rushing defense, allowed 76.9 yards per game.

The Steelers, No. 1 in passing, scoring and total defense but No. 2 against the run, allowed 80.2 yards a game on the ground.

Yet, even had they finished No. 1 across the board, the players that comprise the Steelers' defense insist the unit will be defined by what lies ahead rather than the just-completed regular season.

It's not about statistics; it's about Vince.

It's about winning the Super Bowl and the Vince Lombardi trophy.

If the trophy is handed to somebody else, it doesn't really matter what anybody averaged against the Steelers in rushing, passing, yards per game or scoring.

"We're most aware of the fact that, to be a great defense you have to be a championship defense," Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said.

Aware enough that the Steelers' defensive players have openly discussed winning the Super Bowl as necessary to finishing what their regular season started.

"To make it special with our defense we've been saying, 'Win the Super Bowl, and 23 years from now, they're really going to talk about you,'" Foote said.

The defenses the Steelers most often cite when referencing the best of the best are the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

The '85 Bears finished first in rushing, third in passing, first in total and first in scoring defense, and capped their year of dominance with a 46-10 destruction of New England in Super Bowl XX.

The 2000 Ravens actually finished second in total defense to Tennessee, but were No. 1 in rushing defense, No. 8 in passing defense and No. 1 in scoring defense in a campaign that climaxed with a 34-7 pummeling of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

The Ravens set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season at 165.

The 1977 Atlanta Falcons hold the 14-game record at 129 points allowed, but didn't win the Super Bowl and have thus faded into obscurity from a reputation standpoint.

Nobody ever seems to talk about the '77 Falcons.

Likewise, little attention will remain fixated on the Steelers' regular-season accomplishments if they fail to win it all.

And finishing No. 1 in total or scoring defense has guaranteed nothing in terms of winning it all over the past 10 seasons.

"Nobody will remember any of that stuff if you don't go all the way," linebacker James Farrior said. "That's been our goal all season, to try to get to that game. We're two games away. ... If that's the goal you want to achieve, you gotta talk about it at least and get it in your mind that that's what we're trying to reach."

Added Polamalu: "We have to play championship-caliber defense. We have to put our team in a position to win the game. We have to make big plays. That's kind of been the key to our success this year.

"But the playoffs are just a whole different ballgame. Those little 3-, 4-yard carries make a big difference in a chess match."

Much as they do in determining who's the toughest against the run.


Year/Team: Total Defense/Rushing
1998/Chargers: 1/1/11 ? No

1999/Bills: 1/4/1 ? No

2000/Titans: 1/3/1 ? No

2001/Steelers: 1/1/4 ? No

2002/Buccaneers: 1/5/1 ? Yes

2003/Cowboys: 1/3/1 ? No

2004/Steelers: 1/1/4 ? No

2005/Buccaneers: 1/6/6 ? No

2006/Ravens: 1/2/6 ? No

2007/Steelers: 1/3/3 ? No

2008/Steelers: 1/2/2 ? ???


Year/Team: Scoring Defense ? Won Super Bowl

1998/Dolphins: 1 ? No

1999/Jaguars: 1 ? No

2000/Ravens: 1 ? Yes

2001/Bears: 1 ? No

2002/Buccaneers: 1 ? Yes

2004/Steelers: 1 ? No

2005/Bears: 1 ? No

2006/Ravens: 1 ? No

2007/Colts: 1 ? No

2008/Steelers: 1 ? ???


Wait 'til next year

Once again the playoff landscape has changed dramatically from one season to the next, as seven teams that failed to qualify in 2007 made it this season.

That's usually the way it works in the NFL.

The turnover was especially noticeable in the NFC, where only the New York Giants returned to postseason play and all four division champions changed hands.

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at Fourth & Goal's five best bets among this year's also-rans to break through and make it to the postseason next season:

New England (11-5): The Patriots either get QB Tom Brady back or proceed with a now-established Matt Cassel. Look for more solid drafting in the Jerod Mayo mold to continue re-tooling an aging defense.

Dallas (9-7): The Cowboys are their own worst enemy. But not all of their issues are related to T.O.'s selfishness. Jason Garrett's offense needs to be re-examined and tweaked if the Cowboys are to get the most out of the obvious array of talent that remains assembled in Dallas.

New Orleans (8-8): The NFL's best offense needs help, which is why the Saints need to keep drafting defense. USC's Sedrick Ellis was a great start in 2008, and there's more where he came from, a lot more.

Houston (8-8): Another club that could use a little more contribution from its defense (perhaps with a new coordinator). Still, the Texans have been 8-8 for consecutive seasons and they looked a lot better at season's end than they did opening it in Pittsburgh in September. Keeping the QB healthy would help.

Washington (8-8): The Redskins got very little offensive contribution from their three second-round picks, WR Devin Thomas, TE Fred Davis and WR Malcolm Kelly. When they get it next season, the Washington offense will become much more diverse, much less predictable and much more effective. The Redskins will be a much better team because of it.

Cincinnati (4-11-1): We observed during the Bengals' 0-8 start that it looked like the Bengals were playing to get Marvin Lewis fired or Lewis was coaching to get himself fired. After further review, neither scenario appeared to be the case.

The Bengals were outscored 96-16 in losing to playoff-bound Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Indianapolis from Nov. 20 to Dec. 7. But after that disastrous stretch, the Bengals won three in a row to finish the season.

Granted, the three wins came against Washington, Cleveland and Kansas City, but they completed a 4-3-1 second half that followed that 0-8 start.

Cincinnati somehow finished No. 12 in total defense even though first-round pick Keith Rivers had his jaw rearranged in October.

What if the Bengals get Carson Palmer back?

We're not predicting a Cincinnati resurgence, mind you, but one wouldn't surprise us, either.

To Fourth & Goal, there's value in that 4-3-1 finish, even if it still added up to 4-11-1 overall.

Fresh blood

Now that the coaching carousel has cranked up again, teams in need are scrambling to round up the usual suspects (Bill Cowher reportedly will talk to this team but not that one, blah, blah, blah).

But a couple of names that have surfaced ? or soon will surface ? aren't of the brand-name variety, yet remain viable candidates.

Among this year's hottest assistant coaches are:

Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Tennessee: At 42, Schwartz is still young enough to be considered a rising star in a professional coaching career that began in Cleveland in 1995. He's also respected and recognized for his intensity. If your defense is floundering, may the Schwartz be with you.

Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator/assistant head coach, Baltimore: He stops the run, stops the run, stops the run. Ryan, 46, does so with players, but also with creative schemes that put his best players in position to dominate. He's mostly about bloodlines and blunt trauma.

Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator/assistant head coach, Minnesota: Frazier, 49, played for the Bears in 1985 and this season he coordinated the defense that finished No. 1 against the run. Didn't Mike Tomlin also do that in Minnesota?

Raheem Morris, defensive backs, Tampa Bay: The Bucs' plan is for Morris, 32, to replace Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Morris, though, may be in line for a more significant promotion. Didn't Tomlin once coach defensive backs in Tampa? Morris remains a long shot for next season, but such a jump wouldn't be unprecedented; the Redskins hired Jim Zorn to coordinate the offense last offseason and he wound up coaching the team.


Each season, NFL clubs battle desperately to attain home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it didn't mean much last season.

Home teams went just 2-2 SU on the opening weekend of the playoffs and 5-5 SU overall a year ago.

Another former standby used to be the value of teams coming off a first-round bye in the second round, but last season such teams went just 2-2 SU.

Proceed with caution. It's the playoffs. Anything can happen.


Fourth & Goal's Top 32:

1. Carolina Panthers (12-4) ? The favorite to win it all, if there is one

2. New York Football Giants (12-4) ? Reigning champs a tough out, but beatable

3. Tennessee Titans (13-3) ? The favorite in the AFC, if there is one

4. Indianapolis Colts (12-4) ? The Great Peyton Manning makes them dangerous

5. San Diego Chargers (8-8) ? It's how you finish that counts, not how you start

6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) ? Which Big Ben will show up in the postseason?

7. Baltimore Ravens (11-5) ? Rookie QB Flacco's best game was his last one

8. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6-1) ? Capable of a run, like several qualifiers this year

9. Minnesota Vikings (10-6) ? They stop the run better than anyone and can run

10. Atlanta Falcons (11-5) ? They're ahead of schedule and on the rise

11. Arizona Cardinals (9-7) ? Need a playoff W to legitimize perceived progress

12. Miami Dolphins (11-5) ? "Wildcat" to playoffs; what will they think of next?

13. New England Patriots (11-5) ? Playoff worthy but not playoff eligible

14. New Orleans Saints (8-8) ? With better D, contending will be a Brees in '09

15. Dallas Cowboys (9-7) ? The most disappointing team, considering hype

16. Houston Texans (8-8) ? Find another Slaton and they'll really take off

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) ? Time for some organizational soul-searching

18. New York Jets (9-7) ? Favre finds out how long heroes last in NYC

19. Chicago Bears (9-7) ? Find a QB already

20. Washington Redskins (8-8) ? Disappointing finish but encouraging season

21. Denver Broncos (8-8) ? Mike Shanahan got what he deserved

22. Buffalo Bills (7-9) ? Hard to believe they started 5-1

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) ? Once-feared running game finished No. 18

24. Green Bay Packers (6-10) ? Must seem like 2007 was a long time ago

25. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1) ? Kept playing in second half, if nothing else

26. SF 49ers (7-9) ? Singletary's passion, intensity paid off after all

27. Seattle Seahawks (4-12) ? Must seem like 2005 was a long time ago

28. Oakland Raiders (5-11) ? Cancel the Cable

29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) ? Starting over almost from scratch

30. St. Louis Rams (2-14) ? Lost first four and last 10, wow

31. Cleveland Browns (4-12) ? An absolute mess by season's end.

32. Detroit Lions (0-16) ? The most disappointing team, considering record

THAT'S ALL FOLKS (sort of)

Today's Fourth & Goal is the final Sunday edition of the season.

However, Fourth & Goal will continue to appear on Wednesdays through Super Bowl XLIII

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 5, 2009

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