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Steelers are built for speed

February 05, 2006|By TODD ARCHER

DETROIT - The base alignments are the same. That's about where the similarities end, though, between the Steelers' and Cowboys' 3-4 defenses.

"If you ask me to define our defense," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, "I'd have to say fast."

If you ask Cowboys coach Bill Parcells to define his version of the 3-4, he would have to say size.

Parcells loves size, especially at linebacker. Both teams use bigger defensive linemen to clog holes, but the Steelers have speed at every linebacker spot and speed in the secondary.

The Steelers, who have used the 3-4 since 1983, have a defensive line that averages 307 pounds, while their linebackers average 243.8.

The Cowboys, who used the scheme for the first time last season, averaged 294.7 pounds up front and 250 at linebacker.

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"They're a little more straight 3-4," LeBeau said. "They don't shift their defensive linemen much. We'll put our defensive linemen anyplace. You've got to have a lot of versatility."

The Cowboys stunted very little, if ever, in 2005. Part of it was to protect the players learning a new scheme. Part of it was philosophy, but with another year in the system, the Cowboys should be able to do more with their linemen.

The major difference between the defensive packages is the blitz.

LeBeau loves to blitz. Parcells does not use it often. Parcells says there are two sides to the blitz pancake. It can create havoc for an offense, but it can also leave a defense susceptible to big plays.

When the Cowboys finished No. 1 in the NFL in defense in 2003, they blitzed relentlessly, but the coach was not comfortable with the plan.

The Steelers, who finished 2005 ranked fourth defensively and allowed 258 points, will blitz all the time.

"Anybody can drop," linebacker James Farrior said, "and anybody can rush."

Farrior played outside linebacker for Parcells and Al Groh in the 3-4 with the New York Jets. He has since moved to inside linebacker with the Steelers

"The 3-4 with the Jets was more two-gapping," Farrior said. "We didn't do a lot of zone blitzing. It's a different defense. We run a lot more zone stuff than we did in New York."

To succeed against Seattle in Super Bowl XL on Sunday, though, the Steelers could steal a little from the Cowboys' defensive plan against the Seahawks.

At Qwest Field, the Cowboys befuddled the Seahawks for most of the game. Seattle scored a season-low 13 points. The NFL's most valuable player, Shaun Alexander, ran for only 61 yards.

Seattle likes to force defenses to change personnel groups by using multi-receiver formations. The Cowboys stayed in their base defense for most of the game and gave Alexander little room and Matt Hasselbeck little time.

LeBeau does not like to change personnel much, either, and he has the luxury of having a speedy free safety in Chris Hope, who allows strong safety Troy Polamalu to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

And with the blitz, quarterbacks do not have much time. In the playoffs, the Steelers have sacked opposing quarterbacks 12 times and picked off four passes.

"It's not the most popular defense in the NFL, but these coaches we have don't blink when we see it," Hasselbeck said. "They know it. We don't have to invent anything new for this week."

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