Pass rush is the Steelers' key to slowing Arizona's Fitzgerald
The Steelers' key to winning against the Cardinals Sunday will be to prevent quarterback Kevin Kolb from getting the ball to Larry Fitzgerald.
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The way to stop Larry Fitzgerald is not so much by assigning Ike Taylor to him and double-covering him all game. The Steelers can stop Fitzgerald, one of the game's most dangerous wide receivers, the way they have stopped other receivers in the past -- by pressuring the quarterback, in this case Arizona's Kevin Kolb.
Cut off the head, and the tail dies. They need to get to Kolb in Arizona Sunday before he has time to get the ball to Fitzgerald. He has been sacked 16 times in five games, an average of 3.2 per game, even more than Ben Roethlisberger, who is sacked an average of 3.0.
"You stop the quarterback, you stop Larry," Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood noted.
"That's our job. We'll focus on him."
Yet the Steelers will be without their top pass-rusher from last season, four-time All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, and without two-thirds of their veteran starting defensive line, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith.
Who steps up to put the pressure on Kolb? Two players have done it so far, one expected, the other a bit of a surprise.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who had 11/2 sacks through four games, has 31/2 over the past two and leads the Steelers with five sacks. But someone else leads them in quarterback hurries, and it is not a linebacker.
Hood, who has filled in as a four-game starter, has 12 quarterback hurries, one more than fellow end Brett Keisel and three more than Woodley.
Unlike sacks, it is not an official stat, but the coaches keep track of quarterback hurries -- loosely described as making the quarterback hurry his throw or pressuring him out of the pocket
"We have guys like Ziggy Hood going in and getting good pressure on the quarterback, but they don't count that," Woodley said of the unofficial stat. "But that helps our team when they apply pressure to the quarterback while making him hurry up.
"It's not an official stat but it's big for the team."
The Steelers have done surprisingly well pressuring quarterbacks without their big three of Harrison, Smith and Hampton.
They have had eight sacks in the past two games, which all three missed.
Woodley accounts for nearly half of those, putting to rest any talk that his big contract had affected his play negatively through the first quarter of the season.
"I think I've been playing pretty good all year, but my game is predicated on sacks, and that's what people always are going to talk about when they come to me, sacks," Woodley said. "I don't trip about it. My biggest thing is as long as we win. If [I would] have had two sacks in the Houston game, we lost, so it wouldn't matter. This is not an individual game, this is a team."
Said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, "I think we have two good pass-rushers there. We're missing James Harrison, of course, who is a great pass-rusher. Aaron has great strength to push inside as does Casey."
Practice cost the Steelers more injuries Thursday than some games. They lost three players over the course of a two-hour afternoon session.
Center Maurkice Pouncey (left elbow) and halfback Rashard Mendenhall (knee) came down with new injuries, and linebacker Jason Worilds (quad) aggravated an old one.
The Steelers listed their participation as "limited" in practice. Today, coach Mike Tomlin must determine his injured players' status for the game, ranging from "out" to "probable."
Pouncey said he was "fine" but added he did not want to talk about the injury. He has played through two other injuries this season, to his ankle and knee, not missing a start but leaving two games for short periods, both at home, against Seattle and Tennessee.
Trai Essex is the backup center because Doug Legursky is out with a toe injury. Essex said it was the most extensive practice time he has had at the position, and coordinator Bruce Arians said he will be comfortable if Essex has to play center.
Worild's injury assures that Lawrence Timmons will make his third consecutive start at outside linebacker for Harrison, who has been in the locker room this week without the eye patch he wore after surgery to repair his broken orbital bone.
One day after Roethlisberger said his pleas for more use of the no-huddle offense generally have been rejected by his coaches, coordinator Bruce Arians acknowledged as much.
And he gave his reasons, which included so many changes in an offensive line that will start its seventh different combination Sunday in seven weeks.
"He likes it a lot, I like it a lot and, hopefully, we'll get to it one of these days," Arians said. "We usually have a plan for it. It's usually the third series, fourth series of the game when we design it to go. It was not necessary the past week. In the second half, we talked about it; he wanted to go, I didn't. We had the lead and really didn't need to speed up the game.
"We still have a lot of interchanging pieces, that we're not as coherent as I'd like to be, all 11 guys, to run a lot of it.
"But we're capable of running it, and it may become a major, major force as it has in the past, but, right now, it just hasn't."
Arians added that "it only takes one missed code word, and you have a big hit on the quarterback."
• NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed Steelers president Art Rooney II as chairman of the league's stadium committee and also added Rooney to the league's international committee.
• Arizona tight end Todd Heap, who might not play Sunday because of a hamstring injury, is the third-most productive receiver against the Steelers among active players. He has 54 receptions for 602 yards against them in the regular season, all with Baltimore.
• Roethlisberger said he is not sure if he will wear a protective shoe on his left foot for a third game in a row.
• The Steelers have won in Arizona once, 26-20 in overtime in 1997. They have three losses there, including one in the new stadium in 2007.
First Published October 21, 2011 12:00 am