SUPER BOWL XL wasonly a couple of minutes old, and the Seahawks were moving the ball at a nice,regimental, up-tempo pace, and then they encountered their firstthird-and-long. Uh-oh. That's when the Steelers' blitz package is at its mostexotic.
James Farrior,normally an inside linebacker, set up outside on the left, and Clark Haggansshifted from his left outside position to an inside spot. Farrior got ahalf-step on his man, forcing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to step up in thepocket, and Haggans collected the sack. The chess game was on.
"Theplay," said Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator of the victorious Steelers,"helped our bogus." Your what? "Bogus blitz," LeBeau said."You show it, then back off it. We were doing it all day. It's what you doagainst a team that's max protecting."
Max protect meansmaximum protection, which is an exaggeration because usually only one extra manwho'd normally be a receiver stays in to block. Seattle coach Mike Holmgren isa former quarterbacks coach. Nothing bothers him as much as seeing his passerunder duress. He's usually very quick to leave an extra blocker, sometimes two,in there.
So when theSeahawks had third-and-long later in the first period, the Steelers ran thebogus blitz, rushing only three and dropping eight, vastly outnumberingSeattle's receivers. The result was an incompletion. The next third-and-longfor Seattle ended in another misfire, against a three-man rush in a bogusblitz. Ditto the last one of the first half, after Hasselbeck had mismanagedthe clock in a two-minute drill.
It wasn't a goodday for QBs; neither Hasselbeck nor Ben Roethlisberger was sharp. Receiversweren't exactly starring, either. Even Hines Ward, the game's MVP, dropped twopasses, one in the end zone. Tight end Jerramy Stevens, who scored theSeahawks' only touchdown, dropped three.
It was a day madefor opportunistic defenses. Seattle's front seven was repeatedly beating thePittsburgh blockers off the ball-except on one play, a 75-yard power-right runagainst the nickel defense by Willie Parker early in the third quarter. "Wefelt great about the way the first half went," Seattle defensive tackleCraig Terrill said. "We were only down 7-3, and we felt that we had controlof the game. We put it to Roethlisberger. We got to him. We were playing fast.They didn't expect it."
You can't reallysay two great defenses slugged it out. It was more a matter of which offensewould make the most mistakes, and that honor went to the Seahawks. They turnedthe ball over only once, but that interception, by Steelers cornerback IkeTaylor, came two plays after Hasselbeck's 18-yard completion to Stevens to thePittsburgh one-yard line was negated by a holding penalty. Seattle also had atouchdown wiped out by an offensive pass interference call and missed two fieldgoals.
Once the Seahawksloosened up and sent out more receivers, the Steelers blitzed again. They senttheir little guys. Free safety Chris Hope came off the edge clean and forced anincompletion that ended a series. On a delayed blitz over right guard,cornerback Deshea Townsend got a sack that forced a punt on Seattle'snext-to-last possession.
Of course, theblitz-bogus blitz chess match would have been incidental if the Seahawks hadused the rushing of Shaun Alexander to build a platform from which Hasselbeckcould have thrown. But it seemed as if Holmgren knew the Steelers would behoming in on his keynote runner, because 10 of Seattle's first 13 snaps werepass plays. Alexander's first-half total was a meager 31 yards on 10carries.
"There's avery good statistic that not many people use," Seattle quarterbacks coachJim Zorn said. "Relationship of yards to points. The further apart theyare, the worse it is for an offense. I don't think ours was very goodtonight."
Ten points, 396yards. A bad ratio. A bad night. Too many bogus blitzes.
JONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES
PICK TO CLICK The Steelers threw a variety of defensive looks at Hasselbeck, who in his confusion threw an interception to Taylor.
SHUT DOWN The Pittsburgh defense held Stevens and the Seahawks' high-scoring attack to its lowest output of the year.