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Steelers' Brand of Defense Has Redskins On Alert


When Jason Campbell and the Redskins' offense take the field on Monday night, they will line up against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense ranked first in the NFL and known for creating havoc in an opponent's backfield.

The Steelers run a classic 3-4 defense with linebackers often charging at the quarterback. They are second in the NFL in sacks with 25, including 22 from linebackers.

"They present mismatches and they're going to come from everywhere," said Clinton Portis, whose pass-blocking skills are a necessity against Pittsburgh. "We're going to have to pick up the blitz and give Jason time to throw the ball."

Locating the blitzer is easier said than done against Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's complex scheme.

"It's truly a 3-4 front, more than other teams around the league," head coach Jim Zorn said. "They have four linebackers, and they're all like clones, unfortunately for us. All of those guys can run really well and they're very good at helping each other out. You never know which linebacker is coming."

The Steelers' linebacker corps includes James Harrison, who is ranked third in the league with 8.5 sacks, and LaMarr Woodley, who has 7.5 sacks and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.

Harrison has developed a reputation as "Mr. Monday Night" because he has produced several big games on Monday Night Football.

In his last three Monday Night games, including the Steelers' 23-20 win over Baltimore in Week 4 this year, Harrison has recorded 20 tackles, seven sacks, one interception and five forced fumbles.

Said Campbell of the Steelers' linebackers: "They are good, fast and big, and they have playmakers that will give you every type of look in the book. It's another test, and as a quarterback you have to study film and prepare yourself."

Added Pete Kendall: "Some of their sacks come from them out-executing you, and some come from confusion because they do such a good job with their looks. Sometimes they get a linebacker matched up with a running back, and they take advantage of that."

Two of the Redskins' previous opponents this season--the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns--have run the 3-4 scheme, so the Redskins have some experience against it. They won both of those games, 26-24 at Dallas and 14-11 vs. Cleveland at FedExField.

Few in the league in the league run the 3-4 defense as well as the Steelers, though.

The Pittsburgh defense is tops in the league against the pass and third against the run, allowing 164.4 and 71.6 yards per game, respectively.

"Their 3-4 defense is active and attacks much like an offense that wants to attack a defense," Zorn said. "I'm not talking about just all-out blitzing. Any one of those combination of linebackers can come.

"You have to communicate that and be able to identify what formation their defense is in, make adjustments--and do it seamlessly. It's difficult to run on that kind of defense because they are always changing and maneuvering."

Although the Steelers 3-4 scheme is tough against the run, Redskins players say the scheme can leave itself open to big gains.

Portis leads the league with 944 rushing yards and has run well against both of the 3-4 defenses he has faced this season, putting up a combined 296 yards rushing against the Cowboys and Browns.

"We're a rhythm offense, and we'll combat [the Steelers' defense] by continuing to attack as we have and deal with the problems as they come," Zorn said. "They can only play with 11 guys. Our biggest need is to figure out where their 11 are and get after them."

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