How do you stop a read-option offense? Steelers coach Mike Tomlin suggests hitting the quarterback often. What about a high-tempo offense? Forcing incomplete passes will slow that down.
Dick LeBeau likely spent the offseason in the lab coming up with ways to do this consistently, largely in part to the amount of offenses the Steelers - and the rest of the NFL - will face that uses elements of both of these in their game plans.
The USA Today has a feature in regards to what LeBeau is doing in training camp to prepare the Steelers' defense for teams like Baltimore and New England that already run up-tempo offenses. Green Bay is on the schedule this year, and Aaron Rodgers' pinpoint accuracy and ability to throw on the move make the Packers' offense one of the best in the league.
It's something LeBeau's defense is preparing for, and some might suggest it hasn't been prepared for enough in the past. The Steelers struggled early in the 2012 season against offenses that used quicker huddles and shorter passes to pepper the Steelers into submission - something they were able to counter more effectively in the past due at least partially to lesser capable quarterbacks and receivers.
The season-opener in 2010, Atlanta's Matt Ryan drove his team up and down the field for four quarters, but when they got close to the red zone, the Steelers defense made a play. The Falcons failed to score a touchdown, and Ryan threw an interception late in the game after throwing one too many out-routes to wide receiver Roddy White - who had 13 catches on an eye-popping 23 targets in the game. Troy Polamalu intercepted the late-game pass, and the Steelers eventually got the win in overtime.
Fast-forward to today, there are many talented quarterbacks like Ryan, and there are many talented receivers like White. The Steelers' Week 1 opponents, the Tennessee Titans, have an athletic and young quarterback, Jake Locker, who can divvy out passes between Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright or Nate Washington, and add in rookie Justin Hunter, they could be stacked at that position.
While Locker can't be confused with Ryan, simple one-look throws while keeping a defense in a no-huddle-no-substitution look seems like a great way to empower a young quarterback to play above his past success.
Rodgers and Tom Brady don't even need that to decimate an opposing defense.
According to LeBeau, conditioning plays a big role in his preparation.
""You're going to see these up-tempo offenses more and more across the league this season," LeBeau told USA TODAY Sports. "So very early during our practice sessions, the offense will go a lot of no-huddle attack so our guys get comfortable with not only their up-tempo conditioning, but they get comfortable with the mechanics of getting the call relayed when you can't get huddled up."
Figuring out how to hit the quarterback when he's out of the pocket and bat away passes to slow offenses down seems like the right path. Getting the horses extra laps to have the wind to keep doing it may be a key to the 2013 season.
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