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Playing in space, Steelers practice good tackling

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Friday, Nov. 13, 2009

If good tackling has indeed become a lost art in the NFL, the defending Super Bowl champions might be the exception to the rule.

Playing good defense is one thing for the Steelers, who enter Sunday's pivotal AFC North clash against Cincinnati at Heinz Field ranked No. 5 in total defense.

But the Steelers took the concept to a higher level in their 28-10 Monday night win at Denver.

"Regarding people saying tackling is the worst it's ever been, I'd have to refute that and say it's the best it's ever been,'' said strong safety Troy Polamalu, one of the surest tacklers in the league. "There are quicker guys now on offense. The game is more wide open. Tackles are harder to make in space.''

Facing a Denver receiving corps that becomes more dangerous after the catch, the Steelers secondary thwarted potential big passing plays with solid, textbook tackles.

"We had some third-down situations where they came up a yard or two short, and most of those were because of good tackles,'' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Your secondary has to be able to tackle.''

On two plays, the Steelers secondary stopped Denver receivers on third-down passes that would have otherwise resulted in first downs.

Cornerback Ike Taylor tackled Brandon Marshall for a 5-yard reception on third-and-7 in the first quarter, pulling down the 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver like a rag doll. In the third quarter, safety Ryan Mundy and Taylor teamed to hold Brandon Stokley to a 4-yard catch on third-and-5.

Late in the first half, Taylor stopped Marshall following an 18-yard reception on third-and-1.

The latter play might not seem like much, but the Steelers defense totally sold out against the run, leaving Taylor one-on-one against Marshall after biting on quarterback Kyle Orton's play fake.

"That was a great play. In my six years here (since returning as defensive coordinator), Ike Taylor's been one of the most consistent tackling corners in the league,'' LeBeau said. "If you look at video of players like Marshall, you see them break tackles every game because they're good. Ike measured him and made sure that if he didn't get him, he was going to hold him up long enough that help was coming.''

Said Taylor, who will face Cincinnati's explosive Chad Ochocinco on Sunday: "That's pretty much our defense -- tackle the catch and keep everything in front of us. It sounds simple, but it's so hard to do.''

LeBeau said the Steelers defensive backs are good tacklers because of the emphasis on all 11 players swarming to the ball.

"You can't have a good run defense if your secondary's not going to get involved and tackle the ball,'' LeBeau said. "From Day One, our philosophy is tackle, get the guy on the ground, support the run and run to the ball. I think that is a factor in our guys at least trying to tackle.''

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