View Full Version : Keisel & Smith justify the 3-4

12-07-2006, 06:35 AM

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Derek Anderson could make his first NFL start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns when they play tonight at Heinz Field. Traditionally, the Steelers' defense welcomes a new quarterback the way Dobermans do a pork chop.

Last December, it was Charlie Frye, then a rookie starter for the Browns, who felt the teeth of the Steelers' defense when he was sacked eight times. Sunday, it was Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski, a rookie starter for Tampa Bay who was sacked five times and intercepted three times.

The Steelers have 34 sacks, fourth most in the AFC. Statistically, they are close to last season's pace when they rang up 47 sacks in 16 games and ahead of 2004 when they had 41.

Lately, though, it has been all or nothing for their pass rush. In their past eight games, they had no more than one sack in five of them. And there's a different feel about their pass rush this season because most of the pressure on the quarterback has come from the ends and not the outside linebackers.

The 3-4 defense, the kind the Steelers have run for more than 20 years, can make stars of linebackers and send ends into anonymity.

Not many ends who played for the Steelers the past two decades remain memorable today. Yet fans still wear jerseys of those who thrived in the 3-4, players such as Mike Merriweather, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Joey Porter -- all former Pro Bowl outside linebackers.

"I think generally the outside linebackers get opportunities at a few more sacks," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the architect of the zone blitz.

It's the system. But in that same 3-4 defense today, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are fighting the system. They play defensive end, and that is where most of the pressure has come this season.

Smith and Keisel have combined for 7.5 sacks. That's fewer than the 12.5 outside linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans have produced, but they dominate another statistic -- the quarterback hurry/pressure.

Steelers coaches keep that stat. Keisel, in his first season as a starter to replace departed Kimo von Oelhoffen at right end, leads the Steelers with 20 quarterback pressures. Smith is second with 15. Third is Porter -- with eight. Haggans has three.

"It's anything that affects the quarterback's ability to have clear vision, step and release the ball," LeBeau said, explaining what constitutes a quarterback pressure. "You're getting good pressure and altering what he wants to do, so he's not throwing like he would be on a 7-on-7 drill."

I have no problem with the 3-4, I prefer it over most conventional defenses. When it's run properly with the right personnel it's a nightmare to try and figure for opposing offenses. Our team defense is built to be in the 3-4, that's where our strengths are and the type of players we drafted are built for. This year just hasn't been our year for anything, not just the pass rush.

12-07-2006, 11:56 AM
The 3-4 in my book is the only way to go! You get a big guy on the line in the middle that can take on 2-3 guys and open up the road for the the 4 backers coming in! When ran effectively it can be difficult to dissect, just ask Manning from the AFCD game last year :bigthumb: The key is disguising where the blitz is coming from and the Steelers haven't done a very good job of that this year :dunno: