Share This Page

Steelers' 'D' coming up with big stops

Surviving early turnovers and coming up with timely defensive stops has been key for the 6-2 Steelers this season.

Last Monday at Cincinnati, the Steelers' defense thwarted the Bengals in the final minute of a 27-21 win. And in the first quarter of road wins against the Titans, Buccaneers and Dolphins, the defense rebuffed early touchdown threats that could have swayed momentum.

After struggling to hold leads in several games last season, the NFL's fourth-ranked defense has gained confidence this season that it can stop teams when it matters most.

"Whether it's the winning drive at the end of the game or at the beginning, we know that with our style of play, (the opposing team) coming away with three points is to our advantage," strong safety Troy Polamalu said.

In a 23-22 win at Miami, the Steelers committed turnovers the first two times they had the ball.

Rookie Emmanuel Sanders fumbled the opening kickoff, and the Dolphins recovered at the Steelers, 22. Less than a minute later, the Dolphins recovered a quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fumble at the Steelers' 13.

The net damage on the scoreboard -- and on the Steelers' psyche -- was minimal, as Miami was held to no first downs, 9 yards and two field goals in taking a 6-0 lead.

"When the other team is all jacked up after recovering a fumble and has to settle for three points, it plays well on our psyche," free safety Ryan Clark said. "If a team doesn't score a touchdown after getting the ball down so close, you build so much momentum. People expect to score from that point on the field."

Added Polamalu: "It's great to put points on the board, but most teams want seven."

Polamalu said those two stops against the Dolphins proved pivotal in a game that ended in controversy when the Dolphins recovered Roethlisberger's fumble near the goal line late in the fourth quarter. Officials ruled in the Steelers' favor, leading to Jeff Reed's game-winning 19-yard field goal.

"People say Miami lost that game at the end. I disagree. You could say they lost at the beginning of the game," Polamalu said. "Scoring six points instead of 14 made a big difference."

It made a difference when the Steelers' defense held Tennessee to a field goal after Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon returned quarterback Dennis Dixon's fumble to the Steelers' 37 with 13:37 left in the first quarter.

The fumble gave Tennessee excellent field position with an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, the Steelers forced the Titans to settle for a field goal.

It made a difference later in the first quarter when the Titans had a first down at the Steelers' 40 following a 38-yard punt return. On third-and-1 from the 18, Polamalu intercepted quarterback Vince Young's pass intended for wide receiver Nate Washington.

The Steelers defeated Tennessee, 19-11.

And it made a difference in the Steelers' 38-13 win at Tampa Bay when quarterback Charlie Batch was intercepted at the Steelers' 31 on the second play of the game. The Bucs didn't muster a first down on the ensuing drive and were forced to kick a field goal.

"It's like we've got to outplay their defense. That's our mindset," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "Their defense caused a turnover, so we can't let them score."

According to Clark, the defense plays more relaxed when faced with adversity.

"You're kind of in a situation where you can't lose, so you let it all hang loose," Clark said. "You can't really get balls thrown over your head because of the short field, so (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau can attack more."

Additional Information:

Dominant defenses

Here are the top five defenses in the NFL this season:

1. Giants: 250.6 yards per game

2. Chargers: 274.7

3. Saints: 277.0

4. Steelers: 298.2

5. Vikings: 304.6

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.