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Steelers vs. Panthers: Dick LeBeau takes favorable record against first-time QBs into Sunday Night Football

The question is now can the Steelers force any takeaways?

Streeter Lecka

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau improved to 29-13 against quarterbacks making their first start against his defense in Pittsburgh.

Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers will make his first start against Dick LeBeau, as would Josh McCown or Mike Glennon, whichever quarterback the Buccaneers choose to start in Week 4 (McCown left Tampa Bay's game against Atlanta in Week 3 with a thumb injury). Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles obviously has never seen LeBeau's defense, but Chad Henne has, twice, both with the Dolphins, and despite losing two games, Henne played reasonably well.

That's two straight games and possibly a third, should the dumpster fire that is the Jaguars' 2014 season progress as it has so far early this season, in which the Steelers' defense will face a quarterback that, statistically, doesn't fare well against them.

So...any takeaways coming out of that?

The Steelers failed to log a takeaway until their fifth game last season, having allowed Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel to escape unscathed in four consecutive losses. The got Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith twice, which wasn't exactly unusual. Smith threw 21 interceptions last season.

LeBeau stressed the need to step up in long passing downs to create the opportunity for takeaways. Teams have been dinking and dunking on the Steelers with a pretty high degree of success and, in that, his mantra this week has been forcing long downs. The more stops the Steelers can get on first down, the more they can attack up front.

At the same time, teams with the kind of personnel equipped for high-percentage passing games are capable of having success on second down in the same manner they would on first, setting up a manageable third down. The Steelers saw the Browns convert 2-of-11 third down attempts against them, while the Ravens were 5-for-12.

One team didn't have a capable tight end in the second half. The other one had two of them for four quarters. Guess which one is which.

This is where Panthers TE Greg Olsen becomes a problem. Newton will be going to him early and often, short and deep and whenever he's in need - presumably when he's bored too. Olsen is a tough assignment, and the Steelers will have to bracket him underneath. Still, If they target him 12 times, doing an effective job on him would be limiting him to six or seven catches. That's likely to be six or seven first downs, with a 15-yard-plus play worked in for good measure.

The wild card will be down-and-distance. If the Panthers are getting Olsen the ball on early downs against the Steelers' base package, coverage will have to come between a combination of inside linebackers and safeties. Forcing the takeaway will have to come from the pass rush.

Closing the gap between themselves and Newton before Newton delivers the ball with authority to Olsen will really be the difference in this game. Olsen will get his plays, but one takeaway can make up for seven catches if the Steelers are able to generate some pressure.

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