Commentary

Steelers, Cards love to get after the QB

Both Arizona and Pittsburgh love to blitz and pressure the QB. Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton and Jeremy Green break down the Cardinals' and the Steelers' schemes.

Originally Published: January 28, 2009
By Jeremy Green and Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.
Both Arizona and Pittsburgh love to blitz and pressure the quarterback. Scouts Inc.'s Gary Horton and Jeremy Green break down the Cardinals' and the Steelers' schemes.

Great Debate: Who has the better blitz package?

Pittsburgh

Gary Horton: For years under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, the identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense has been a relentless, and sometimes unpredictable, blitz package. This is a linebacker-oriented pressure defense, and the Steelers are fortunate to have four guys who can get after the quarterback. We know how good outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are, but the guys inside, James Farrior and Larry Foote, might be a big part of this game as blitzers.

Arizona QB Kurt Warner is almost impossible to get to when the pressure comes from the outside because he can simply step up into the pocket and let the rush go by him. Even if he is in a shotgun formation, he gets the ball out so quickly on underneath and hot routes that he can frustrate elite pass-rushers like Harrison and Woodley. However, when the pressure comes from the inside, the immobile Warner not only loses his throwing windows, but he also is forced to move side to side, and that is when his accuracy and velocity decline. Farrier and Foote love inside X stunts, on which they attack the opposite A gaps as they cross and can bring safety Troy Polamalu inside, instead of off the edge. That could be a key to this game. Even the Steelers' overload blitz package, which destroys most offenses, might not be effective because Warner will read the blitz and simply hit the hot receiver in the hole vacated by the blitz.

Pittsburgh also must be careful with how it uses Polamalu. If the Steelers use him heavily in the blitz package, that will leave only Ryan Clark as a center field safety and limit the deep help they can give to their corners. Teams have tried to single-cover Arizona wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin only to be beaten with big plays, even off the jam. But if the Steelers keep Polamalu in coverage, that's one less pass-rushing weapon at their disposal. It's a tough call, but the Steelers don't like to waste Polamalu in a lot of coverage situations.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.