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Today about Seahawks' offense, Steelers' defense

February 5, 2006

DETROIT ? After playing in a Brigham Young scheme that gave him fairly simple responsibilities as a lineman, Greybull native Brett Keisel needed a few years to become comfortable with the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive approach.

Opposing offenses have considerably less time to adjust.

Seattle's offense vs. Pittsburgh's defense is the most intriguing matchup in today's Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit, because of all the variables. The Steelers play aggressively, using a zone-blitz scheme that was invented by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. With linemen sometimes dropping into coverage, it is designed to keep the quarterback guessing where the rush is coming from. Seattle's West Coast passing offense is built to protect the quarterback and exploit a zone with passes in the uncovered holes and seams of the defense.

Either way, it should be fun to watch.

"It just blows you away, how [LeBeau] comes up with this stuff," said Keisel, a member of the Star-Tribune Super 25 team. "Our blitzes come from everywhere. . . . We don't just have a specific place where we think our strength is, so it gives you a lot of opportunities to show your blitz, then back off."

The concept of confusion certainly worked against Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning in the divisional playoffs. The Steelers hope to do the same against Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, although he's confident the Seahawks will be well prepared for the 3-4 alignment that's unusual in the NFL.

Seattle's coaches "don't blink when they see it," Hasselbeck said. "They've seen it; they know it. They've been around longer than we have as players, and it's not something we get hung up on this week. We have rules for a 3-4 defense and we don't have to invent anything new this week."

They just have to block linebacker Joey Porter and locate safety Troy Polamalu, two of the Steelers' best pass rushers.

Porter is a relentless, effective blitzer and Polamalu lines up all over the field as "a safety who's . . . stretching the limits of where he's supposed to be," said Seattle offensive coordinator Gil Haskell. "And you have to know where he is."

LeBeau insists that his scheme works only because the Steelers have great athletes, and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren would not disagree. Other teams try to do the same things the Steelers do, but they are less effective. Either the blitzers lack the speed and technique to reach the quarterback, or the coverage behind them is not as good, or both.

The Steelers are fast, they tackle well and they are physical up front. By stopping the run, Pittsburgh forces offenses into uncomfortable situations and then turns up the pressure.

But the Seahawks will challenge them with a productive, balanced offense. It starts with running back Shaun Alexander and spreads to Hasselbeck, who picked apart Carolina's defense in the NFC championship game. Alexander's trademark is an ability to break big runs after several plays when the defense stops him for little or no gain.

Hasselbeck is more consistent, relying mostly on short passes. That's how the West Coast offense was designed, to utilize the tight end and other receivers and pick up first downs, then take an occasional shot downfield.

"They know where to go to counter what you are trying to do and they've got the people to execute it," LeBeau said.

So it's pretty simple, really. If the Steelers can pressure the quarterback and force the Seahawks to use extra blockers, the passing game will be limited. If the Seahawks can run the ball effectively and their protection is good, Hasselbeck can find holes in the coverage.