LeBeau's late wrinkle catches Hawks off guard

On the eve of Super Bowl XL, Dick LeBeau installed a coverage package that left Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck scratching his head.

Updated: February 7, 2006, 2:24 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- On Saturday evening, just 22 hours before the kickoff of Super Bowl XL, the father of the zone-blitz concept discovered that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. And so at 8 p.m. Saturday, during the Pittsburgh Steelers' final team meeting before the championship game, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau actually installed a new coverage package.

"And you know what?" LeBeau said following Pittsburgh's 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks. "[Despite] just putting the thing in on Saturday night, it was probably one of the most successful packages we used the entire game."

The coverage package created by LeBeau, a master of deception, was a bogus pressure alignment designed to nullify some of the Seahawks' strong-side formations. And clearly it had some effect, given that Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck alluded in his postgame remarks to some "new looks" the Pittsburgh defense had incorporated.

Whatever the crafty LeBeau conjured up during two weeks of preparation worked well enough to limit the Seattle offense -- a unit that statistically ranked No. 2 in the league in total yards and was the NFL's highest-scoring unit, at 28.3 points per outing -- to a single touchdown.

Seattle finished with huge advantages over the Steelers in first downs (20-14), total yards (396-339), number of snaps (77-56) and time of possession (33:02-26:58). But the lone touchdown for the Seahawks came on a 16-yard catch by tight end Jerramy Stevens, who also had at least three dropped passes. A prolific and up-tempo offense that registered 21 touchdown drives of 80 yards or more in the regular season managed just one possession of more than 60 yards on Sunday evening.

Most significant to LeBeau, the Seahawks converted just five of 17 third-down plays.

"I thought our third-down defense was really a big story in the game," LeBeau said. "We were able to get them off the field, and that's always important."

The Steelers struggled early with Seattle's tempo and with Hasselbeck's quick release, but they got a few breaks. One came when wide receiver Darrell Jackson was penalized for pass interference on a would-be touchdown catch. And Stevens' stone hands didn't hurt, either, because he clearly had opportunities to make plays up the seams. But Pittsburgh limited league most valuable player Shaun Alexander, the NFL's rushing leader, to 95 yards on 20 carries. And Hasselbeck, who completed 26 of 49 passes for 273 yards, was sacked three times and threw one interception, to cornerback Ike Taylor.

The pickoff came with Pittsburgh leading 14-10 in the fourth quarter and with Seattle, at the Steelers' 27-yard line, threatening to snatch the lead. On the play, Hasselbeck badly overthrew Jackson. Taylor, who had been a target of the Seahawks' passing game earlier in the evening, made a relatively easy pickoff.

"You know, it got to the point where I was taking chances, and that was just a poor decision," Hasselbeck said. "It was a chance I shouldn't have taken. I kind of got fooled by the move one guy made [in the secondary], and it was a bad play."

Fooling opposing passers is a strong suit for LeBeau, of course, and there were some occasions, especially in the second half, when Hasselbeck appeared flummoxed. The surprising part is that LeBeau called only a handful of standard zone-blitz defenses against Seattle's passing game.

Pittsburgh blitzed early but, as LeBeau pointed out, the Seahawks were using "max" protection blocking schemes, and "we didn't see anything good that could come from just constantly banging our heads against a wall."

Typical of LeBeau, though, he saved one gambit, one of the most basic zone blitzes, for a critical moment. It came on Seattle's penultimate possession of the game, with Seattle scrambling to scrape back into the contest. On a third-and-8 play from the Pittsburgh 47-yard line, LeBeau called for a "corner fire," and Deshea Townsend roared through a gaping hole to dump Hasselbeck for a five-yard loss, forcing a punt.

On the zone blitz, linebacker Joey Porter dropped into coverage rather than rushing, and that forced Hasselbeck to hold the ball a count longer than he normally might. Townsend was into the backfield like a heat-seeking missile.

"A great call, perfect timing, one of the oldest zone blitzes we've got, but still a goody," Townsend said after the game. "That's the thing about [LeBeau], he knows when to spring something we haven't used on an opponent. But he also knows he can trust us to deliver. I mean, there we were Saturday night in the hotel, walking through a new coverage that he just drops on us at our team meeting. And we work on it for four or five hours and, for something we've never played before, we get it hashed out. I guess he kind of figured 'better late than never,' and I'm glad he did, because it worked great for us tonight."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.