Steelers' defense hopes to make big splash
During the Steelers' five-game losing streak last season, coach Mike Tomlin told reporters he rotated cornerbacks — replacing starters with reserves and then switching back to starters in the same game — in a search for playmakers.
"We played quite a few people in the secondary, looking for guys to make splash plays," Tomlin said.
In 2009, Steelers cornerbacks accounted for two interceptions — both occurring in the final game of the season against Miami. By Tomlin's definition, both could be considered splash plays: Deshea Townsend's interception ended a scoring drive; Taylor's pick in the closing minutes thwarted a final Dolphins comeback.
As a team, the Steelers totaled 12 interceptions last season. In Tomlin's three seasons, the Steelers have averaged 14 interceptions, including a high of 20 in 2008.
Last week, the Steelers' top three cornerbacks were asked what Tomlin's definition of "splash play" means to them.
"Pick-six. Something that's going to change the game," left cornerback Bryant McFadden said.
"Breaking up a pass. Interceptions. Making a good block for a teammate who made a play, trying to help him score," right cornerback Ike Taylor said.
"Take it to the crib," said William Gay, who backs up McFadden and plays nickel back.
When asked about the importance of splash plays, all three cornerbacks agreed they follow defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's instructions to be in the right position before trying to make a splash play — not the other way around.
"All I'm trying to do is control my man, not letting him have any big plays or stop him from scoring," Taylor said. "(Anything else), that's a plus.
"The two Super Bowls we won, we had a few splash plays. But we never led the league in interceptions. When we had the No. 1 pass defense (in 2008), we (didn't) lead in interceptions. It's good for TV. But, overall, football is the ultimate team sport. Can't one guy do it."
Said Gay: "Coach LeBeau, he's not wrong 99 percent of the time. You've gotta go with what he knows."
On the surface, not all splash plays are created equal.
Despite tying for the NFL lead with nine interceptions last season, Philadelphia cornerback Asante Samuel was criticized by coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott for poor tackling.
Samuel has recorded 29 interceptions since 2006. He has been lifting weights in an attempt to add more strength and become a better tackler.
"I think Asante knows he needs to have a better year than what he had, even though he was a Pro Bowler," Reid said.
LeBeau said in June that while he likes his cornerbacks to make splash plays, he expects them to play a total game.
"I don't really use interceptions as an evaluating criteria," LeBeau said. "The No. 1 thing is the other guy doesn't catch the ball."
McFadden said Steelers cornerbacks who attempt to make splash plays do so at their own risk.
"When you jump, you better be right," McFadden said. "The philosophy is if they don't catch the deep one, the short one's not going to beat us. Coach LeBeau always preaches that."
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