Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Steelers Defense Must "Execute" Against Eagles

"If everybody does their jobs correctly stays in their gaps, we get all 11 hats to the ball, then it should be a good game for us." - Ziggy Hood

Those words Ziggy uttered weren't about Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles specifically, nonetheless they fit this Sunday's game ever so adequately. With the mercurial Vick and the shifty LeSean McCoy coming to town it truly is all (11 men's) hands on deck.

We talk gap control a lot on If It Ain't Steel and it applies this Sunday especially. Lack of technique and gap control are essential whenever a defense steps onto the field, but even more so with a "shady" running back and a dual threat quarterback like Vick.

The defense as a whole knows this all too well: the last time a quarterback ran for 50 or more yards on the Steelers was back in 2002. The quarterback then? Michael Vick. The Steelers Mike Tomlin, in praising the Eagles in his weekly press conference on Tuesday, talked about whether they will use a spy on Vick. -

So they will absolutely look to keep Vick in pocket. "We have to play straight up football. He can easily get away from a sack or two," said Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. "He's known for using his legs but we all know how strong his arm is. It's a double threat with Vick."

Nose tackle Steve McLendon agrees. He told Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette that Vick isn't like the old Vick.

"That's the thing, he's trying to be the quarterback he's not, and I hope he keeps being that quarterback," McLendon said. "We want him to sit in the pocket. As long as he's sitting in the pocket, we have a good chance to get to him and hit him. If we can hit him, get him frustrated a couple of times, we're going to be successful."

Speaking of Steve McLendon, why isn't Lebeau playing him more? He sacked Vick with one hand in the preseason, in fact he was starting to look as if he would supplant Casey Hampton as starter. At the very least he looked as if he would prove true Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell. He told reporters at the NFL Draft to 'hold their opinion' of McLendon, intimating that they shouldn't assume that fourth round draft pick Alameda Ta'amu would be Little Snack. -

Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu also realizes that "any time you can get any pressure on anybody, which is always our goal, I think you have more success." It won't be easy, but having Polamalu back on the field would help.

Polamalu and James Harrison both practiced Monday and Wednesday, which is good sign for the Steelers defense. Like Ike Taylor said, "You're talking about two defensive league MVPs. Enough said." Let's see if they are back out there Thursday before getting too excited, though. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend.

Of the possible return of Harrison and Polamalu, safety Ryan Clark also said: "It gives you two players you have to scheme for offensively, two players coach (Dick) Lebeau can use extensively."

But he also made a telling statement when he said, "I think it's more pressure, honestly....No more excuses."

If Polamalu does return to the lineup after missing two games due to a calf injury, it will be the first time this season the defense will have played with both starting safeties in the lineup. Ryan Clark having, of course, to sit out the season opener in Denver due to his Sickle Cell trait. Having both allows the defense more freedoms and will help bolster the run defense. -

Speaking of which, LeSean McCoy is probably the best running back the Steelers will face this year and they need to contain him for a chance to win. Limiting the number of splash/explosive plays by him as well as their wide receivers, Desean Jackson and Jeremy Macklin, and tight end, Brent Celek, is imperative.

The defensive players know that it's mainly on them also. As we discussed in a recent article, the players must execute on defense. As we said, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn't suddenly forget how to coach. If there is "predictable" aspect to the scheme's, fine, mix the scheme's up more and bring more (crossfire) blitz packages. The main impetus, still remains with the players themselves to do better.

Almost to a man the players ate admitting this as well. LaMarr Woodley admitted to it last week and Polamalu even says he's been asked about Steelers "predictable" defense since he came into the league. According to him, they're 'not predictable when they execute.'

Larry Foote was just as forthright when asked about the defensive struggles saying that they simply 'have to execute.' -

All 11 men must be on the same page in order to do that. We haven't seen it much this so far this season. That needs to change quickly to get the season back on track.