Thursday, October 04, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Brett Keisel's teammates are amazed at his play and dumfounded over his statistics.
"Keisel doesn't have a sack yet?" linebacker James Harrison bellowed yesterday in the Steelers locker room. "Yeah, he does. Are you sure?"
"Yes, he does," nose tackle Chris Hoke insisted.
Nope. Keisel has packed nearly a year's worth of pressure on quarterbacks through the first four games. Last season, he led the defense with 23 quarterback hurries/pressures to go with his 5.5 sacks. He already has 15 hurries/pressures through four games, an ungodly pace of 60 for the season.
But no sacks. He did have one on the stat sheet for three days before it was rubbed out by NFL statisticians. They ruled Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman tripped over Clark Haggans' foot before Keisel touched him down.
That's no sack and no concern, not the way Keisel has applied the pressure. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau counts pressures right up there next to sacks because it often causes quarterbacks to do something else that's good for the defense.
"You disrupt the quarterback, that's our thing," said end Aaron Smith, second on the defense with seven pressures to go with his 1.5 sacks. "You may not get there, but we want him to at least feel our presence and get to him and let him know we're coming after him."
Interceptions, fumbles and incompletions all happen because of pressure.
"You get enough pressure on somebody, he's going to start throwing the ball wild, get rid of it quick, get him rattled," Smith said. "That's what we're trying to do, get there and get pressure on him."
LeBeau gives Keisel the same freedom he does safety Troy Polamalu; he can line up and jump around all he wants before a snap to disguise what he's doing, as long as he fulfills his assignment when the ball is snapped.
Keisel studied for the new role by watching Polamalu.
"I watched Troy a lot. Obviously, I don't have the speed he does. I think it does create a degree of difficulty for an offense when they see you at one spot and right before the snap you run over and rush from another spot. I'm just trying to put in as much confusion as I can, coming up the middle, going back and sometimes I'm dropping, too."
His favorite play in disguise came Sunday in Arizona when he faked a rush up the middle, dropped back and knocked a pass away 10 yards down field outside the hash marks.
Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said keeping track of Keisel is difficult and presents problems for offenses.
"How they play defense really challenges an offensive team," Holmgren said. "They're zone-blitzing package has always given teams problems. They're so active and their movement causes problems for you, there's no other way to say it."
Ends in a 3-4 defense don't usually become stars because the outside linebackers are the ones who have more chances to get to the quarterback. Smith and Keisel, however, have put heavy pressure on. Last season, the Steelers had 105 pressures, as counted by their coaches. Keisel had 23 and Smith 21, or 42 percent of the team's total.
They have 49 as a team this year with the defensive ends accounting for 45 percent and Keisel alone 31 percent.
"I seem to be not able to convert them into sacks, but I'm just more with the defense," Keisel said. "We have some schemes this year that free me up a little more and all that's helping."
As a team, they're 52 percent ahead of their 2006 pressure pace. Their 14 sacks also are on pace to quickly surpass their 2006 total of 39.
"It's just a different feel to the defense this year," Harrison said. "Guys are just getting it done this year. It seems like the defenses coach LeBeau is calling, they're working and he's calling them at the right time and the right places."
A typical example of Keisel's play came in the third quarter Sunday in Arizona and the score tied, 7-7. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner dropped the snap in a shotgun formation. He tried to pick it up, but was leveled by Keisel. Then Arizona tackle Elton Brown jumped on the loose ball, but Keisel kicked it away from him, and the Steelers' Harrison wound up with it at the 4.
But, it does not count as a sack.
"Yeah. it bugs the hell out of me," Keisel said of his sack total. "But they're going to come. The season is still real young."