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News » Defense nearly perfectin the regular season STEELERS NOTEBOOK


Defense nearly perfectin the regular season STEELERS NOTEBOOK


Defense nearly perfectin the regular season STEELERS NOTEBOOK
The Steelers defense produced its first shutout of the season yet came up just short of one of the NFL's most elusive defensive accomplishments.


No defense has finished 1-1-1 since the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles were first in the NFL in total defense, against the run and against the pass.

The Steelers defense will have to live with 1-2-1. They were No. 1 in total yards allowed, No. 2 against the run and No. 1 against the pass. They finished second in the league to the NFC's Minnesota Vikings, who allowed an average of 76.9 yards per game to the Steelers' 80.2.

The difference was 54 yards; the Vikings allowed 1,230 yards rushing, the Steelers 1,284. It matters not that the Steelers were stingier on allowing yards per carry -- 3.29 to Minnesota's 3.32.

"Throughout the season nobody really thought about it until we got to the end," defensive captain James Farrior said. "The last couple of games I think we looked at our stats to see where we were and it came down to this game for us to be No. 1 across the board; we were 83 yards behind."

The Browns spoiled it with 106 yards rushing on 29 tries, 94 yards by Jamal Lewis, the most of any back this season against the Steelers.

"We gave up a little bit too much," Farrior said.

But they did finish No. 1 in an area that might be the most important of all. As a team, the Steelers allowed the fewest points in the NFL, 223, which include two interception returns for touchdowns when the defense was not on the field, and a safety.

Their 1,284 yards allowed rushing are their second fewest in a 16-game season only to the 1,195 they allowed in 2001. Their 2,511 yards allowed passing are the third-fewest behind 2,394 in 1978 and 2,500 in '90.

"I'm quite sure after the season, after the Super Bowl, we'll think about that a lot more," linebacker Larry Foote said. "But right now we're just trying to get that Super Bowl.

"To make it even more special for our defense, we've been saying, win the Super Bowl and 25 years from now they're really going to talk about you. ... You have to win the Super Bowl to be remembered."

Big Ben benchmarks

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw his 15th interception Sunday, the second most of his career. He had 23 in 2006. His 17 touchdown passes tied for his fewest after he set the Steelers record with 32 last season. His 80.1 passer rating was his second lowest to his 75.4 in 2006 after he set a team record at 104.1 last season.

He did avoid setting a dubious record in sacks. He was not sacked in his nearly one half of play Sunday before he left with a concussion and finished with 46, one fewer than last season. He has been sacked 139 times in the past three seasons.

Roethlisberger, though, ran his record to 23-4 against AFC North Division as a starter with his 12th consecutive division win. He is 51-20 overall.

Schedule not so bad after all

Turns out, the Steelers did not have the toughest schedule in 2008 after all. They had the toughest entering the season, based on records of their opponents from 2007. But when all was said and done, their actual opponents fared much worse.

The Steelers not only did not have the toughest schedule in the league, but they also did not have the toughest in their own division. That belonged to the Cleveland Browns, whose opponents compiled a combined record of 145-108-3 (.572), the best record by opponents of any team in the league.

Next in the AFC North was Cincinnati's schedule; the Bengals' opponents went 141-114-1 (.553). The Steelers' were 133-120-3 (.525). Part of the reason, of course, was the Steelers (12-4) and Baltimore (11-5) played both teams twice, and both records are counted twice in the total.

Winless Detroit had the second-toughest schedule in the league, according to their opponents' combined records of 143-113 (.559).

Moore makes his mark

Although Mewelde Moore barely played in the first three games and played most of the season as a backup, starting four games for the injured Willie Parker, he made up for lost time.

Moore, with 588 rushing yards, finished second to Parker's 791. His six touchdowns were one behind Hines Ward's team high, and his 40 pass receptions were the most by a Steelers back since Amos Zereoue's 40 in 2003.

Five quarterbacks, four big MACs

Passes were thrown by five quarterbacks Sunday. Four played college ball in the Mid-American Conference: Ben Roethlisberger (Miami) and Byron Leftwich (Marshall) of the Steelers and Bruce Gradkowski (Toledo) and Joshua Cribbs (Kent State) of the Browns.

Cribbs, a kick returner and wide receiver, played quarterback in college. He stepped in at quarterback several times Sunday and completed one of his two passes.

"I'm telling you!" Leftwich exclaimed after the game. "What was there, four of us out there today? That has to be a record."

Steelers rookie Dennis Dixon, who played at Oregon and was the only non-MAC outsider, played in his first NFL game and completed his only pass, which was caught by Hines Ward for his 800th career reception.



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 30, 2008

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