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After Shutout of Seattle, Pittsburgh's Defense Return to Familiar Place in Early-Season Rankings

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For those of you looking for a straight recap of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-0 win over the Seattle Seahawks, sorry, I'll get to all the talking points eventually early this week. But I'm skipping ahead for the time being to talk about the play of the defense in the shutout win. I don't think any one would argue that this was the best they've seen the Steelers play defensively, but their shutout of Seattle proved this defense is still going to overwhelm the league's lesser offenses. Here's an overview of the numbers.

  • All the familiar faces on defense found their way to Tavaris Jackson. James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, Larry Foote, LaMarry Woodley (1/2) and Steve McClendon (1/2) accounted for the team's five sacks of Tavaris Jackson.
  • I liked seeing Steve McClendon rotated in on passing downs in relief of Casey Hampton. McClendon met LaMarr Woodley at the quarterback for half of a sack on Sunday, and I think it's a no-brainer to utilize his athleticism in nickel packages more frequently moving forward. This idea was discussed by the always-prescient roster analyst datruth4life a week or so ago, and I'm entirely on board with the idea, even if it means a few fewer snaps for fan-favorite Chris Hoke.
  • Speaking of Woodley, he really didn't fare as well against rookie right tackle James Carpenter as I had hoped he would. Carpenter was a guy that we had kept an eye on during last year's pre-draft evaluation process, but he's looked atrocious up until Sunday, be it at tackle or at guard. I thought he held his own fairly well against Woodley. Neal Coolong made a good point to me after the game when he said that it seemed like Woodley and Harrison were asked to not put their head down and attack every down but instead make sure that Tavaris Jackson didn't break contain outside the pocket. I think that partly accounts for why Woodley and Harrison didn't have bigger days statistically, and why there were multiple sacks recorded on inside blitzes. But still, I'm waiting for Woodley to round into form and start punishing inexperienced tackles like that while Harrison is building his strength back up.
  • After the 164 yard shutout performance, here's where the Steelers rank in several notable traditional statistical categories.
Points Per Game 17.5 (t-6th)
Yards Per Game 274.5 (2nd)
Passing Yards Per Game 175 (5th)
Rushing Yards Per Game 100.5 (12th)
Yards Per Play 5.1 (t-8th)
Sacks 6 (t-6th)

 

  • What's any of that mean? Well, nothign necessarily, but it's not easy to shut out a team in the National Football League. It just isn't, yet on Sunday, it never seemed in question. It was not until the 4th quarter that the Seahawks even ran a play in Steelers territory. That's how stingy Dick LeBeau's unit was.
  • Before you say 'well, Tavaris Jackson just sucks, so what?' There's some truth to that, but it doesn't tell the whole story. T-Jack was not really the problem for Seattle. He completed close to 70 percent of his throws -- they just didn't go for many yards (159). The Steelers next big test will come in two weeks when they face Matt Schaub down in Houston, but I'm eager to see how they perform against Kerry Collins in Indianapolis next Sunday. Collins has no business playing well against the Steelers, but it was only a few short years ago that he carved Pittsburgh's defense up with ease.
  • Troy Polamalu and James Harrison both looked a half step faster and a tad more explosive on Sunday. That's a beautiful thing, is it not?
  • Keenan Lewis did just fine, but maybe folks will now realize that Dick LeBeau's defense is designed for guys like Lewis and Bryant McFadden (i.e. the No. 2 cornerbacks) to give up some short and intermediate stuff underneath.
  • I thought Larry Foote played a lot better against Seattle than he did against the Ravens. Foote had four unassisted tackles and a sack, which of course allowed Steeler Nation to get a taste of Foote's patented 'Squash 'Em' drop kick sack move (totally made that lame name up by the way). Not sure that the Steelers will be able to thrive with Farrior and Foote against high-octane offenses that are competent spreading things out and finding mismatches in the middle of the field, but the two of them are too smart and experienced to allow mediocre teams to do much against them.
  • I thought Aaron Smith looked better in Week 2. No stats to speak of, but he was not being pushed around at all and was responsible for some of the tough-sledding Seattle experienced offensively.
  • Good game for William Gay. Can't bash him when he stumbles and not give him his due when he plays well. Again, another example of a player who's very good against lesser competition, but at times a liability against the league's best quarterbacks. That's no huge knock though; the best QBs in the league can make anyone look bad at any time. We'll see how LeBeau goes about adjusting his strategy in the defensive backfield when we next face a dangerous passing attack.