Bill Cowher auctioned off some personal possessions when he quit as Steelers coach and left town for Raleigh, N.C.
One thing he apparently took with him was the leash he held on defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
The Steelers' defense, still conducted by LeBeau under new coach Mike Tomlin, is performing more exotic maneuvers than ever, players say. And they say there is one reason for it -- LeBeau has more freedom under Tomlin to do what he wants than he did under Cowher.
"I think he does way more than he did [before], actually," safety Troy Polamalu said. "I don't think they've put any reins on coach LeBeau from what I know of. I think from the past, I think now he probably has more control of the defense."
Players and coaches, on and off the record, say LeBeau has the freedom to call what he wants, when he wants under Tomlin, a freedom he did not previously have under Cowher.
"I do, I do," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "I think he's getting to call whatever he wants, and the call is sticking."
So is his defense. After two games, the Steelers rank third overall in yards allowed -- fifth against the run, third against the pass -- and they are No. 1 in points allowed and first downs allowed.
They also have 10 sacks and rank second in the NFL in sacks per passing play. That gives them a jump on blowing past their 2006 season total of 39, which tied for third-fewest under Cowher.
The Steelers long had a dominant defense during Cowher's 15-year reign, so whether he held more control over what LeBeau did or not may not matter to the bottom line. But there's no denying LeBeau has more freedom to call what he wants this season than he did before.
Part of the reason for the increase in sacks, players say, is the movement of the defenders. LeBeau has players running all over the place, more so than before.
"Yeah, I think we're a lot more active," Polamalu said. "We're not as conservative. We're kind of initiating what the offense needs to do and not reacting to what they are doing."
No one jumped around from place to place more often than Polamalu in previous seasons; now, he's not the only one doing it.
"I think it means more running around for everybody," Polamalu said. "Guys are moving around more, we have new packages. Guys are feeling a lot more comfortable with everything."
LeBeau was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Polamalu suggested one big reason for the freedom his coordinator has this year:
"New coach, I would think."
Among the differences on defense this season are the rotation of the defensive line, the use of Keisel in different spots, a true four-man line of down linemen on occasion, cornerbacks playing safety and safeties playing cornerback, and the movement of various players as Polamalu suggested. For example, one of Clark Haggans' two sacks came in Cleveland when the left outside linebacker lined up on the right side and rushed from there.
"I wouldn't say it's a lot of different things," linebacker James Harrison said, "just putting people in different places than where they were before, moving them around and not seeing the same guy come every time."
That's reflected in the sack total, too. Nine players share the 10 sacks, led by Haggans' two.
"I think everybody's expected to be a pass rusher," Polamalu said.
Linebacker Larry Foote, like most starters, has one sack.
"The first game, a lot of guys were coming free, a lot of schemes were getting to him," Foote said. "But last week, the DBs were doing an excellent job. I remember the one I had, he tried to throw the ball, check down, and Deshea [Townsend] jumped the receiver, so he had to hold it and I got the sack. The DBs are doing a great job back there."
Foote also figures LeBeau has more freedom to run his 3-4 defense, but also received different input from Tomlin, whose previous experience was coaching a 4-3 defense with a cover-2 philosophy.
"I don't really know if coach Cowher used to hold him back like people said, but you never know," Foote said. "This is his defense, and Tomlin's never really been in the 3-4 fire zone defense, so I'm quite sure it's LeBeau's show. He put new wrinkles in that Tomlin helped him [with]. They're both defensive guys so they're putting stuff together.
"Dick LeBeau's the wizard of defense, everybody knows that."
And now, apparently, a wizard unleashed.