Tomlin motivates with Broncos’ No. 1 message
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH – The more coach Mike Tomlin keeps talking about it, the more agitated his players get.
Exactly the response Tomlin wants from his Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tomlin keeps referring to the Broncos as having “the world’s best defense,” a reference to Denver’s spot atop the NFL team yardage statistics. He mentioned it during the weekly team meeting. Before practice on Wednesday. Before practice on Thursday. And he’ll likely keep saying it until game time Monday.
“We’ve heard coach Tomlin say it 1,000 times already this week,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “They’re a great defense, a big challenge for us … an awesome challenge.”
By constantly reminding that the Broncos (6-1) are playing better statistically than the Steelers (5-2), Tomlin is trying to motivate both his offense and his defense. He wants his offense determined to prove it can move the ball in Denver, and his defense mad that it’s no longer No. 1.
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“They’ve put in a very aggressive style of defense,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “They changed to a system very much like ours and Baltimore’s. They’ve got the personnel to run it right now.”
The Steelers were the NFL’s best defense statistically the past two seasons, but they’re No. 8 this season. They’re No. 1 against the run, but are 16th against the pass, which is dragging down their overall ranking.
“When you prepare for a team like this, it’s like playing a division team, like a Baltimore,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “It’s always defense challenging defense. It’s an important goal in every game for us: As a defense, we always want to outplay the other defense.”
The Broncos didn’t do that during a 30-7 loss Sunday to Baltimore, which allows Tomlin to also sell this to his players: The Broncos are determined not to have another letdown in a game that potentially could prove important when the AFC playoff seeding is determined.
“I just think the Denver Broncos ran into a buzzsaw,” Tomlin said.
What the Steelers defense might run into is a Broncos offense that looks much different than it did against Baltimore.
When Broncos coach Josh McDaniels was an assistant coach with New England, the Patriots had success against Pittsburgh with spread-type formations that forced Polamalu to play deep coverage and didn’t allow the Steelers to blitz as much.
The Broncos had trouble pass protecting for quarterback Kyle Orton against Baltimore, and the Steelers are capable of bringing the same kind of pressure the Ravens did. If the Broncos spread it out at times, Orton can get rid of the ball quicker and perhaps lessen the intensity of the Steelers’ pass rush.
“He doesn’t take sacks,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of Orton, the former Bears quarterback. “He doesn’t throw interceptions. He’s very good at getting the right play. He’s a veteran, and you’re not going to confuse him.”
Of course, the Steelers will try to do exactly that.
Linebacker James Harrison believes the Steelers will be ready for whatever the Broncos do.
“It’s really whatever coach LeBeau feels works for that game, for that opponent,” Harrison said. “Some games we might rush a little more and there are quarters and games where we might not blitz at all. That’s part of being a linebacker in coach LeBeau’s defense. Rush the passer and drop into coverage, that’s part of the whole package.”
Just as Orton probably must remain patient and wait to take advantage of whatever the Steelers give him, Roethlisberger understands he can’t be too eager to go downfield with safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Champ Bailey waiting to make plays.
While Roethlisberger has been the NFL’s most-sacked quarterback since entering the NFL in 2004, his ability to improvise when his pass protection breaks down has repeatedly created big plays. Roethlisberger also has been successful running the no-huddle, which the Ravens used on 31 plays against Denver.
“It changes the tempo, it keeps defenses on their heels,” wide receiver Hines Ward said. “It’s a matter of wanting to get into a speeded-up tempo. We hop into it to try to get some things going. Will we use it? I don’t know. But we have it – every week, every game, the package is in.”