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Once strictly the Steelers

Once strictly the Steelers - 1 Once strictly the Steelers...

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1 Once strictly the Steelers' domain, the 3-4 defense now used by eight teams. Sunday, September 18, 2005 By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Time was, the Steelers lined up against a 3-4 defense only at mid-week, in practice. They were the only team to use it in the NFL. Today, they begin a stretch of three consecutive games against a 3-4 defense, starting with Houston and continuing against New England at home next Sunday and at San Diego Oct. 10. The NFL has eight teams using the 3-4, and a defense that once looked nearly extinct thrives among 25 percent of the league's teams. The Steelers had a lock on that style of defense in the late '90s, and not many others used it for most of Bill Cowher's 14-year tenure. Cowher installed that defense when he arrived here in 1992, but the Steelers played it under coach Chuck Noll since 1983, making it 23 consecutive seasons they've used the 3-4. "For us, we always felt that there was a little bit of an advantage because teams had one week to prepare for it," Cowher said. And now, going against 3-4 teams the next three weeks? "You're not going to surprise anyone," Cowher said. "It's not going to be a case of [opponents] not being prepared." The other four teams using it are Cleveland, Miami, Dallas and San Francisco. All three rookie head coaches changed to that defense this year, the Browns' Romeo Crennel, the Dolphins' Nick Saban and the 49ers' Mike Nolan. Denver's Mike Shanahan thought of switching to it but did not, and Baltimore went back to a 4-3 this year. Nolan's 49ers used it in a big way in an opening victory against the Rams. Bryant Young, 33, had played tackle all his career in a 4-3, but, as a 3-4 end, he had three of his team's seven sacks last Sunday and was named NFC defensive player of the week. "With our linebackers coming or our safeties coming," Bryant said of the new alignment, "it changes things up to allow each guy to get some pressure in the quarterback's face." Nolan previously coached the defense as the Ravens' coordinator, just as Houston's Dom Capers coached it under Cowher with the Steelers and Crennel did so with the Patriots. "Maybe more coordinators feel comfortable doing it," Cowher said. The 3-4 is known as the "Okie" because Bud Wilkinson's great Oklahoma teams in the 1950s made it famous. Denver popularized the defense in the late 1970s under Joe Collier, and it spread. The great four-man defensive lines such as the Steel Curtain, Purple People Eaters, Doomsday Defense and the Fearsome Foursome morphed into a league dominated by linebackers. The pendulum swung back to the four-man fronts in the 1980s and 1990s. Could this be the beginning of a popular swing back to the 3-4?
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2 "You look at Pittsburgh and New England," Capers said. "Normally, this is a copycat league. When teams are having success, people are always going to study what they are doing. I also think things go in cycles ... I think it swung back the other way a little bit." Ron Hill, a personnel director and scout in the NFL for more than 25 years with Denver, Dallas, Atlanta and Jacksonville, said teams also are finding more players from college who suit the 3-4 defense.
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