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Tyrone Carter's the Logical Choice at Free Safety Against the Redskins

I am pleased to welcome Neal Coolong to BTSC. Neal formerly authored the popular fan site Die Hard Steel. He also writes on occassion for, Jim Wexell's pay site. And his columns and blurbs can be found on  With cgolden now busy with his already successful Cardinals site, Revenge of the Birds, it's nice to have another person helping out. And Neal's as accomplished and accessible a writer as you'll find out there, which I have no doubt you'll quickly see. As always, feel free to email me at with any questions, concerns, suggestions you may have, or if you simply want to write something on the main page yourself and first want to talk it over. More the merrier, but for now, BTSC is quite lucky to have Neal jump aboard as we navigate through this wild and crazy 2008 season. Please join me in welcoming him. -Blitz-


I was at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Columbus, Ohio, watching the Steelers lose 21-14 to the Giants Sunday. I was surrounded by a few business travelers like myself, chomping on chicken wings, quietly rooting for our respective teams - Seattle, San Francisco, Buffalo, Houston, Cleveland, to name a few.

After a completion down the middle of the field to previously silenced Plaxico Burress, Dick Stockton said "...And safety Tyrone Carter on the coverage."

I leaned over to the Buffalo fan sitting next to me and said "I grew up mostly in Minnesota, watching Tyrone Carter play. I've seen every snap he's taken as a Steeler. I've never heard a positive play end with the broadcaster saying 'Ty Carter on the coverage.'"

He laughed. I sighed.

So what to do now that starter Ryan Clark has been listed as doubtful for Monday night's showdown with the 6-2 Washington Redskins (Clark's former team)? Go with Carter, who has clear limitations? Or is it time to give Anthony Smith another shot? This particular matchup may be a better fit for Carter than it is for our other replacement candidate, Anthony Smith.

The 5-foot-8 Carter has been a solid back-up free safety in his time in Pittsburgh, and is aggressive in his run support. His pass defense...well, you can't teach height, and giving up nine inches to Burress is a fairly significant disadvantage.

You can teach a defensive back to not bite on a double-move or gadget play, though, and it's a lesson Anthony Smith didn't bother to learn last season.

Washington's main threat through the air is 5-foot-9 Santana Moss. Their No. 2 guy, former Steeler Antwaan Randle-El, isn't any bigger than 5-foot-9. Moss is averaging 15 yards a catch this season with seven touchdowns. Steelers fans know full-well Randle-El's ability on gadget plays.

While Smith has more physical tools than Carter does, and both are generally seen as aggressive players, Carter's veteran savvy makes him a more viable option for the run-heavy-set-up-the-deep-ball Redskins. Smith is bigger, but Carter is less susceptible to the double-move, and Washington doesn't have a significant height advantage outside the numbers.

What they do have, though, is a deadly efficient quarterback. Jason Campbell is the only starter in the NFL not to have thrown an interception at this point, and his numbers are eerily similar to what Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard had going into their Week 14 game last season.

Garrard hit Dennis Northcutt on a 55-yard touchdown pass off a double-move in the second quarter of that game. Anthony Smith on the coverage...

It makes perfect sense for Washington - a team led on the ground by Clinton Portis and his 5.1 yards per carry - to set up the big play like Jacksonville did last year by running the ball, and waiting for their opportunity to use Moss's speed against Smith's tendency to play the run. The Steelers pass rush may not have yielded a sack against New York, but they provided plenty of pressure, and the Redskins' offensive line is not as good as the Giants.

The Steelers will miss Ryan Clark. But if he's not in there, Carter makes the most sense as the deep safety. The run defense can contain Portis without the safety five yards off the ball. What the Steelers can't contain, though, is Moss getting behind him deep.

So maybe my streak will be broken, and I'll hear "Carter on the coverage" and not see a jubilant Moss or Randle-El on the receiving end of a big pass play.