Monday, October 19, 2015

The Standard could be super for Steelers defense

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 9:09 p.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3), left, as tackle Jared Veldheer (68) ...
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3), left, as tackle Jared Veldheer (68) grabs him in the second half an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 25-13. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
The Standard may be the standard, but let's get something straight. That isn't the “S” word to associate with the defense these Steelers are playing.
That word comes later.
On Sunday afternoon, the Steelers defense came to the rescue of an offense that again took too long to get going without franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The NFL's No. 1 scoring offense did everything but score a bunch at Heinz Field. In a rousing 25-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Steelers continued to prove that denying points — even while surrendering yards — is how to play defense.
Five of six opponents have amassed at least 350 yards against the Steelers. The Cardinals collected 469.
Those opponents have scored only 11 touchdowns.
Four came from the New England Patriots, who opened against Steelers' starting defensive backs who had not practiced together during training camp.
Since that opening loss, the Steelers have surrendered more than 20 points once. And the Baltimore Ravens needed an extra quarter to get their 23.
“No one gives us respect,” safety Mike Mitchell said after his interception clinched the Steelers' fourth win Sunday.
“We're going to take it by force.”
You know the Steelers are starting to approach The Standard when a defensive player forces the Respect Card upon the media. Somewhere, outside linebackers coach Joey Porter must have been smiling.
But you know what?
We all have to eat crow, humble pie and whatever dishes members of this defense want to serve up. And we have to eat those dishes cold, too.
“To hold them to 13 points was huge,” Mitchell said.
It would have seemed incomprehensible as recently as, well ... a couple of seconds before the opening kickoff.
This Cardinals offense was hotter than a July high noon in Arizona. Coach Bruce Arians hasn't designed a scheme that attacks so much as it assaults.
Remember when Roethlisberger mused openly about the Steelers possibly posting 30 points per game? The Cardinals were averaging 38.
That's not “Madden Football” level. That's not “Tecmo Bowl” level. That's 2007 Patriots level. That's “good night and good luck” level.
And the Steelers defense didn't exactly have reasons to feel lucky.
They were without a couple of former first-round linebackers in Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. They also were down a couple of dependable-though-not-related defensive backs named Allen in Will and Cortez. They were only six days from dealing with San Diego's unseasonable 93 degrees and 34 minutes of possession by the Chargers.
Lucky should have been the Steelers holding the Cardinals to 34 points Sunday.
It's better to be good than lucky. And it sure sounds like first-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler is good — like, really good.
“They did some very unorthodox things,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “They changed some stuff up. They did a handful of things that they hadn't done on film but we expected they might do.”
Wait, the Cardinals expected some of what they saw from the Steelers defense? Didn't look like it.
Looked like they couldn't run, and they didn't.
The Cardinals gained 55 yards on the ground. They joined the Patriots, Rams and Chargers as opponents who failed to rush for more than 80 yards against the Steelers.
“We're getting back to making teams one-dimensional,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “I keep hearing about all the passing yards we're giving up. But we're stopping the run and not allowing a lot of points.
“Maybe people could start looking at that?”
The Steelers have allowed an average of 18 points. They have recorded 17 sacks. They have intercepted five passes, forced as many fumbles and recovered four.
The Standard may prove elusive.
But when Roethlisberger comes back to a potentially big-scoring offense, he'll be handing over leads to a defense that is good enough to make these Steelers super.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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