Steelers’ Polamalu says offense dictates big hits
Dick LeBeau is pleased with how the Steelers have adjusted to the NFL’s crackdown on illegal hits.
“We didn’t have any fines (Monday night at Cincinnati),” the defensive coordinator said Thursday. “That’s a good thing.”
In games against Cleveland and New Orleans, linebacker James Harrison was fined for illegal hits. In all, Harrison has received three fines totaling $100,000 this season.
LeBeau is more optimistic than some of his players that the seemingly blurred line between legal and illegal hits will become more clear. He said the coaching staff will continue to reinforce proper tackling techniques in accordance with the league office.
“We’ll keep trying to coach within the limits of the rules as we understand them,” LeBeau said. “I think we can adjust what we’re teaching off what they’re enforcing. You have to play the game as the rules are. They want us to lower the target of the tackle, and we’re trying to teach that.”
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu said the sport has evolved to the point where big collisions — including illegal hits — are inevitable. Additional coaching is fine, he added, in agreement with LeBeau. But offenses have become more wide open, forcing defensive players to cover larger areas and therefore building momentum and delivering tackles with greater force.
“The game has evolved in a sense that, of course, people are bigger and faster now, but it’s also evolved in a sense that it’s not eight guys in the box every down and two guys in the backfield,” Polamalu said. “When you start spreading teams out and you start getting space and distance — and you’ve got to get that burst to make that hit — that’s why you’re seeing a lot more hits than normal. It’s because of the way offenses are playing.”
“That’s probably accurate,” he said. “Offenses are spreading the whole field from sideline to sideline, putting four and five wide receivers out there and making you defend the whole field.”
Polamalu is famous for delivering crunching tackles. He slammed Cincinnati receiver Terrell Owens to the turf from behind following a 20-yard reception in the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ 27-21 win Monday. Polamalu wasn’t penalized.
“Back in the day, it was easier to make open-field tackles in the box,” said Polamalu, an eight-year veteran. “You could see what was coming, for the most part. But when you’re running all these fast crossing routes and you’re spreading people out, those hits you’re seeing are pretty much from spread offenses: big shots down the field, crossing routes.
“It’s never a safety coming downhill (and) hitting a running back in the mouth.”
By the numbers
The Steelers’ leading tacklers this season:
• LB Lawrence Timmons : 78
• LB James Harrison: 55
• LB James Farrior: 53
• CB Bryant McFadden: 49
• S Troy Polamalu: 44