Defenses of Steelers, Pack look a lot alike
ARLINGTON, Texas - What happens when two defensive gurus - one of them a Hall of Fame cornerback - face off on a football field? The last time the Dick LeBeau-led defense of the Steelers met the Dom Capers-shaped defense of the Packers, it was a scoreless tie . . . for about a minute and a half.
That was last year's thrilling, 37-36 win by the Steelers at Heinz Field, a game in which 973 yards of offense were cranked out, including a 60-yard touchdown strike on the Steelers' first snap.
The teams have changed a bit since then. The Packers have gotten more accustomed to Capers' 3-4 scheme (which he helped LeBeau perfect while they were on the same staff in Pittsburgh). And the Steelers have added a few wrinkles and improvements to their tried and true system.
But just because the Super Bowl teams allowed fewer points than anyone else in the NFL this season doesn't mean Sunday's game is going to be a grind. It could be like the one last season. Points and yardage could start shooting up through that big star on the turf like oil from a North Texas gusher.
"We always say that whenever people start talking about a defensive matchup and how both defenses are good, that it's going to be a low-scoring game, it always ends up being a shootout," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said Tuesday. "We'll have to see what happens."
Farrior believes his defense can stop the Packers. What he hopes is that his defense doesn't stop the Steelers. Because of the link between LeBeau and Capers, the defenses are almost interchangeable. You could take Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton and swap him out with Packers middle man B.J. Raji and not need a drop of White-Out for the playbook.
"It's two teams that run pretty much the same defense,'' Farrior said. "I was joking the other day that we need to show those guys how to run it. But those guys know what they're doing. It's the same style, an aggressive style."
The Packers spent their bye week watching tape of the Steelers' offense, but they also went back and took a peek at the 2009 game, in which Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for a tying touchdown as time expired and the Steelers won on an untimed extra point.
"Sick," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said of how he felt after reliving that horror. "Sick because of how we lost the game on the last play, but even more sick about the defense we played. That was embarrassing. We couldn't get off the field. We couldn't stop them from scoring any points.
"It was a hard pill to swallow, but we all had to sit in there and watch the film last week and go over the game and see why it was that way. That's something we have to make sure doesn't happen this week."
Perhaps it was the familiarity between the defensive coordinators that allowed for the offensive eruption. Not only did they work together, but they also were roommates early in their time with the Steelers.
"I had been the coordinator for 10 years when Dom got his first coordinator job, so I broke the kid into the league," LeBeau joked Tuesday. "I learned some things from coach Capers, too. We worked together very well."
They're working for the same goal this week - with essentially the same playbook - but with different teams. But it will be up to the players to determine who can perform those intricate, ingenious scribblings at the highest level.
"They feel like they're a good defense," Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins said of his counterparts from Pittsburgh. "We want to go out there and show that we're the best defense."
At this point, somebody should.