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Steelers let Bucs stop themselves

Pittsburgh's defense makes some big plays but doesn't have to do much to slow Tampa Bay.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 24, 2002


TAMPA -- To the Bucs, the Steelers defense must look like a Dream Team. It's guys like Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen and Brent Alexander, but the Bucs must see Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood and Mel Blount.

For the second straight time, the Bucs did little against the Steelers defense. After mustering 10 points and allowing 10 sacks in their clash last season, the Bucs hardly got a lick in this time, struggling all night to find the end zone Monday at Raymond James Stadium.

Thing is, the Steelers seemingly didn't have to do much. The Bucs were just as effective at stopping themselves as anything the Steelers cooked up. Their base defense, sprinkled with several timely blitzes, was more than enough to hold down Tampa Bay, especially with quarterback Shaun King throwing wildly before he was replaced by Rob Johnson.

Several times the Steelers' defense of the Bucs amounted to little more than watching King's passes sail uncontrollably over receivers' heads. There were some series when the Steelers forced the Bucs into three-and-out situations while hardly breaking a sweat.

Even the Steelers admitted their job was made noticeably easier by the Bucs.

"They were at a disadvantage. I mean, they're playing with their backup quarterback. I think that's a tough task," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "We tried to take away their running game and make them one-dimensional."

The Steelers defense made only a handful of big plays. Cornerback Chad Scott stepped in front of Keyshawn Johnson to pick off a King pass and returned it 30 yards for the Steelers' second touchdown.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton forced a Mike Alstott fumble at the Pittsburgh 7-yard-line, stopping a scoring opportunity early in the second quarter. He forced another late in the third, bowling over guard Cosey Coleman and swatting the ball out of Rob Johnson's hands to stop another drive.

But it was far from the aggressive and vexing performance the Steelers delivered last season, when they held Tampa Bay without a touchdown for three quarters, harassed quarterback Brad Johnson unmercifully and gave up 278 total yards, including 64 on the ground.

Statistically, the Steelers appeared just as dominant. They had six sacks and held the Bucs to 277 yards, including 125 in the first half.

But a lot of that was the Bucs' own doing. The offensive line didn't have as much trouble handling the Steelers' pass rush, but as a whole, the Bucs offense looked out of whack in just about every other phase.

The Steelers defense gave up chunks of yardage in the fourth quarter, but by then they were in a prevent defense. And still the Bucs couldn't score until the outcome was no longer in doubt.

"Defensively, we feel like we can get after some people, so the game plan was to stop the run and get after the quarterback," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said. "We stuck to that and it worked. We were on him all day, chasing him around. They took King out and we chased Johnson around and got the same result. He made some plays, but not enough to get the game won."

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