Mike Tomlin merely was making an observation, noting that not many National Football League teams will win games in which they fail to have an advantage in time of possession. He made the comment after the Steelers won their third preseason game Sunday night, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-13, despite controlling the ball for fewer than 25 minutes.
Troy Polamalu, though, appeared to be sounding a warning after the Eagles possessed the ball for 10 1/2 minutes longer than the Steelers, saying the defense is not built to be on the field a long time because of the attacking, man-to-man style employed by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
Polamalu, a three-time Pro Bowl safety and the highest-paid player in team history, said the defense performs better when it is not on the field as much as the offense. That way, he said, opposing teams have fewer chances to figure out the Steelers' intricate blitz schemes.
It was almost as though Polamalu was laying down a challenge for the offense and its new coordinator, Bruce Arians.
"Things are going to be a little different around here," Polamalu said. "The way our defense plays is definitely all predicated on how the whole team does. In the past, we've been able to do well because our offense has really held on to the ball, really controlled the clock, so, when we got out there, we're fresh and we're able to come with a lot of speed with a lot of different blitzes. When you give an offense an opportunity to see our defense a lot, it can really hurt us."
Asked why this year will be different from past seasons, Polamalu said, "It's going to be different in the sense that it depends how our whole team is structured. Our defense is not really a defense that's built to be out there a long time.
"It's not like a Tampa-2 defense; you can play the Tampa-2 all day long. It doesn't matter how long you're out there."
Polamalu was referring to the style of defense popularized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Tony Dungy was their coach: A cover-2 scheme in which the secondary sits back in deep zone coverage to take away the big play. Dungy actually borrowed the scheme, which became known as the Tampa 2, from when he played for the Steelers under defensive coordinator Bud Carson.
But, even though Tomlin was the Buccaneers' secondary coach for five seasons, including one under Dungy, the Steelers do not employ that style.
"We have a lot of guys who are playing man-to-man [coverage]," Polamalu said. "We come with a lot of different blitzes, and, once an offense starts feeling comfortable with that, it's the worst position our defense can be put in."
The Eagles controlled the ball for 35 minutes, 15 seconds against the Steelers. But those numbers are skewed because the Steelers actually possessed the ball for 17 minutes, 7 seconds in the first half when their first-team offense was on the field and built a 13-3 halftime lead.
It was only after the Steelers began to substitute that the Eagles built up a possession advantage in the second half, controlling the ball for 22 minutes, 22 seconds against the second- and third-team defense. Nonetheless, Polamalu said the Steelers' defense is more effective when the offense is controlling the ball.
"With our style of defense, that's how we won a Super Bowl," Polamalu said. "That was the exact game plan through the entire year. We knew late in the year teams wore down and also later in the game. It wouldn't even take till the third or fourth quarter for teams to wear down."
The Steelers were 5-3 last season in games in which they held the advantage in time of possession. The games they lost were to the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, games in which Ben Roethlisberger threw a combined 10 interceptions and the Steelers lost five fumbles.
Curiously, they were 3-5 in games in which the opposing team controlled the ball, beating New Orleans, Cleveland and Tampa Bay, games in which those teams combined for three interceptions and lost five fumbles.
In 2004, when they went 15-1, the Steelers were 12-1 in games in which they held the ball longer than their opponent.
During their Super Bowl season of 2005, the Steelers were 10-1 when they led in time of possession, including 2-0 in the postseason. But they also won two postseason games, including Super Bowl XL, when they didn't have the advantage in clock control.
"If the offense scores quick, it's a good thing because they've scored," Polamalu said. "But if it's three-and-out, three-and-out, three times in a row, that will kill our defense. That's not how our team is structured.
"Our whole team has to really work well together. We can't turn the ball over on offense because our defense can't be out there a lot. The way we play defense, we play hard, we run to the ball. We're not a zone type of team."
By Gerry Dulac
Tuesday, August 28, 2007