Budging Steelers’ D-linemen will be weighty task for Bears
BY PATRICK FINLEY September 20, 2013 9:14PM
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Updated: October 22, 2013 6:11AM
Through two games, it’d be easy to think of Matt Forte as someone with more draws than a Chicago bridge and who, when his teammates are covered, is quick to catch the ball on a check-down.
“This week,” Forte said, “is a little different.”
On Sunday, the Steelers’ 3-4 defense will present a new challenge — and will test how quickly Marc Trestman’s offensive scheme can adjust to different defensive fronts.
It’s not just about the way the Steelers’ defense lines up to play the run; it’s how their three bulky defensive linemen are taught to play.
The Steelers’ three down linemen lock up with offensive linemen in their gaps, waiting to see where the ball is going or feeling where the blocks are coming from.
The team sends extra blitzers to stop the run, too.
“They’re not playing their front to rush the passer and defend the run on the way to the quarterback,” Trestman said. “They’re rushing the passer to stop the run — and they’re doing it with internal blitzes and people coming from different levels, which makes it harder to one-on-one block.”
It also makes a draw play less dangerous because defensive linemen aren’t always selling out to sack the quarterback.
Expect to see more power running from the Bears than when they faced the cover-2 defenses of the Bengals and Vikings the first two weeks.
Against those schemes, Forte was able to run effectively on delayed handoffs — his seasonlong 24-yarder came after Jay Cutler faked a throw to the left — and he often was open for short receptions underneath.
“[The Steelers] don’t really play the cover-2 look like that, and that’s where the running game is going to be real important — average at least four yards a carry,” said Forte, who averages 69.5 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards. “And when we get the one-on-one on the receivers, that they make a play on the ball.”
Budging the Steelers’ defensive linemen is a weighty task.
Nose tackle Steve McLendon is 320 pounds. Defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel are 300 and 285, respectively.
“They have big, wide, girthy guys,” right tackle Jordan Mills said. “You can move them a little bit, but you can’t move ’em a lot.
“On certain plays, you can’t run against those kinds of guys.”
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod called Pittsburgh’s linemen “strong, long-armed guys who can anchor very well” off the snap.
“You’re not going to get much movement,” he said.
The answer is “a different style of running,” right guard Kyle Long said.
Backup running back Michael Bush said he actually prefers playing a 3-4 defense.
“You feel like there’s a lot more seams you can hit,” he said. “There’s just gaps.
“You just want to be more explosive to the hole. It’ll close up quick.”
With veterans raised in Dick LeBeau’s system, wide receiver Brandon Marshall said, the Steelers are “really the pitcher sometimes — and not the batter.”
And despite the spotty defense this year — the Steelers have allowed 119.5 rushing yards per game, 24th in the NFL — it has been aces in recent years. Pittsburgh has fielded a top-eight rush defense the last nine years, leading the league in 2010 and 2004. The unit finished second in 2012 and 2008 and third in 2009, 2007, 2006 and 2005.
“Historically, you look at their team, they are a very difficult front to run against,” Trestman said. “Everybody attempts to do it, and we certainly are going to run the football, as well. But it’s hard because a lot of their pressures are designed to stop the run. It remains to be seen whether we can unlock some of our plays and get some yardage.”