Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger expects 'everything' from Dick LeBeau and Titans defense
In the first 11 years of his career, Ben Roethlisberger faced a Dick LeBeau defense hundreds of times in practice.
On Thursday, he'll do it for the first time in a game when the Steelers play the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field in a matchup of division leaders.
The Steelers quarterback isn't exactly relishing the opportunity.
“It's not just a defense,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday when asked about the challenge awaiting the Steelers against their former defensive coordinator. “It's a Dick LeBeau defense.”
He's not the only Steelers offensive star who has that sentiment.
“I'm not eager to go against LeBeau,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said.
LeBeau, the 80-year-old defensive mastermind whose contract was not renewed by the Steelers after the 2014 season, is in his third year overseeing the Titans defense. Tennessee doesn't possess one of the NFL's top units this season — the Titans are 22nd in points and 16th in yards allowed — but the defense has shown improvement during a four-game winning streak.
What does Roethlisberger expect to see from LeBeau's defense?
“Everything,” he said before adding, “I don't know.”
Both statements are true. LeBeau and his zone blitz scheme can be so unconventional at times that it looks conventional to those familiar with it.
“That's what makes him so special,” Roethlisberger said. “He's probably one of the best defensive coordinators and even better person that I've ever been around. It was so much fun to be on his team to see what he did to other quarterbacks. Hopefully, it won't be as much fun (for LeBeau) going against him.”
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who still calls LeBeau a close friend and golfing companion, also is expecting the unexpected from his former boss.
“Coach LeBeau is always doing something different,” Butler said. “I guarantee you it will be something. I guarantee our offense will see something we haven't seen before.”
The Titans defense turned the corner after allowing 57 points in a loss to the Houston Texans. They have allowed a combined 87 points in five games since.
“He hasn't changed much,” said Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who was on Bill Cowher's staff in 1996 when LeBeau was in his first stint as defensive coordinator. “He's pretty confident in what he's doing. There's no reason to try to reinvent the wheel.”
One thing the Titans have adjusted is the amount of man-to-man coverage used in the secondary. The Titans were one of the top press coverage teams through the first six weeks of the season.
Roethlisberger isn't surprised by the change.
“He's going to get the best out of his personnel, and he's going to do what's best for his team and what he has in terms of secondary, linebackers, D-line,” he said. “He's the best at what he does. He'll find a way to get his team in the best situations possible with the players he has.”
Despite the short week and inherent fatigue the players will face Thursday, Roethlisberger said the setting could be conducive to the Steelers running more no-huddle against the Titans.
“You have the no-huddle, and it's been in (the playbook) since Day 1, so rather than try to install a bunch of new plays, you go with what you know and have been doing for a long time,” he said.
The Steelers ran the no-huddle for eight plays Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts and averaged more than 8 yards a snap. That was a departure from the previous three games — all wins — when the Steelers ran only five total plays out of the no-huddle.
“I like the no-huddle,” Brown said. “It gets us a chance to establish rhythm and tempo, not letting defenses get their calls in and allowing us to play fast and get lined up fast.”
Running the no-huddle requires all of the players to know the team's hand signals that Roethlisberger uses to call the plays. That could be an issue for players in their first year with the Steelers such as tight end Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“Those are the guys you have the biggest questions about,” Roethlisberger said. “I haven't seen one iota of question or doubt from them.”