Blitzville Welcome Awaits the Chargers : AFC championship: Pittsburgh brings NFL’s No.1 pass defense into today’s game against San Diego, which scored 37 against Steelers earlier this season.
The sign on the interstate says it all: Welcome to Blitzburgh.
If Steelers fans head down that interstate to Miami for the Super Bowl, they’ll likely do so because of a sack frenzy spurred by Pittsburgh’s ultra-aggressive blitzers.
The Steelers will bring the NFL’s top-rated pass defense into Sunday’s AFC championship game against San Diego, which scored 37 points--the most allowed by Pittsburgh all season--in a season-ending victory.
Pittsburgh led the league with 55 sacks, many created off its blitzing schemes. The Steelers don’t go crazy with the blitz, the way the Atlanta Falcons once did with their “Grits Blitz,” which came on virtually every down. But they don’t lay back in zone defenses and allow quarterbacks time to get comfortable, either.
“You can’t let their blitzing force you into bad reads and turnovers,” Chargers quarterback Stan Humphries said. “That’s just what they want you to do.
“They make it tough to pick up, because they disguise it so well and you can’t be sure if they are coming or who is coming.”
The Steelers often use All-Pro outside linebackers Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene as pass-rushers, supplementing the three-man line. Greene led the NFL with 14 sacks and Lloyd had 10. But neither has gotten one since Dec. 4.
That shouldn’t provide a comfort zone for the Chargers, however. Defensive end Ray Seals (seven sacks) and inside linebacker Chad Brown (8 1/2) have been nearly as dangerous, and any of the four defensive backs are likely to get in the mix.
Cleveland used a maximum-protection scheme early in last week’s game, but Vinny Testaverde still was pressured and his receivers had a bad case of the drops. San Diego handled the Steelers’ pass rush very well, but Lloyd and All-Pro cornerback Rod Woodson didn’t play.
In the last three games, Pittsburgh has a total of four sacks.
“I don’t care who you are, when you see a team on film getting a lot of sacks, you do something about it,” safety Darren Perry said. “We see them run more or keep in extra blockers, which takes them out of their regular offense. We can drop more guys in coverage.
“A lot of times, they think we are going to blitz, that . . . we like to blitz on second down, but we try to mix it up, disguise it, make them think about what we might do.”
The Chargers are thinking about it. They know the best weapons to offset the blitz are a steady running game and quick passes. If 245-pound back Natrone Means comes close to repeating his 139-yard performance in last week’s victory over Miami, the Chargers could put the blitz out of commission.
“They blitz a lot, bring a lot of guys,” Means said. “They like to create constant chaos on the field. We have to hit our short passes, pick up their blitzes, then we can run the ball.
“I feel we can have as much success. We have to come out moving the ball, because I feel they will start out with eight guys and just dare us to run.”
The best thing about Pittsburgh’s blitz is its unpredictability. An opponent might know when it is coming, but it rarely knows who is coming, and from where. Just that in itself disrupts an offense.
“Because offenses and quarterbacks know what we want to do, they are keeping in running backs and going to max protection,” Brown said. “But that lessens their offensive abilities by protecting the quarterback more. That can play right into our hands.”
San Diego’s running backs are not particularly adept blockers. More likely, the Chargers will use tight ends Duane Young (270 pounds) and Alfred Pupunu (265) to handle much of the blitzing, and have Humphries look for Ronnie Harmon and Means as receivers.
Levon Kirkland, Pittsburgh’s other starting linebacker, wouldn’t be surprised if the blitz is not a major part of Sunday’s game plan.
“I think we have a solid defense and we don’t have to blitz,” he said.