A familiar foe

Posted Sep 17, 2011

The Seahawks haven’t played their Sunday opponent that often, but as coach Pete Carroll says 'everybody knows the Pittsburgh Steelers.'

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers.

If Pete Carroll said it once this week, he said it once a day. At least. And it wasn’t just that he said it repeatedly, it was the way the Seahawks’ second-year coach said it – with ample respect, and even reverence.

As in, “It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers,” as he muttered the other day.

The Seahawks venture into Blitzburgh for Sunday’s game at Heinz Field – at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers – well aware of what they’re getting into.

The Steelers, after all, have won two Super Bowls and lost a third in the past six seasons, including that 21-10 win over the Seahawks in Super XL that lingers in the minds of Seattle’s fans if not the players.

“It feels like a long time ago, so that’s why I don’t even think it’s a factor now,” said cornerback Marcus Trufant – one of two players, along with linebacker Leroy Hill, from that 2005 Super Bowl team who’s still on the roster.

“I think we’ve got to go in there and we’ve got to be worried about us and make sure we do things right.”

Of greater, and more immediate, concern to this Seahawks team is the fact that the Steelers have won eight consecutive home openers and are 6-2 against the Seahawks in Pittsburgh. Oh, and they’re 25-8 at home since 2007 under coach Mike Tomlin.

The flipside of the Steelers’ success at home is what the Seahawks have done – or not been able to do – on the road, and especially in the Eastern time zone. The Seahawks were 2-6 on the road last season and dropped their opener last week to the 49ers in San Francisco. So they’re now 5-20 on the road since 2008. In the past four seasons, the Seahawks are 1-10 when traveling to the East Coast.

“It’s not unique to any one program, it’s unique to West Coast-East Coast,” Carroll said of the other West Coast teams also struggling when they travel three times zones. “So we’re going to try to even that out.”

And do it against a Steelers team that will be a tad testy after being slapped around 35-7 by the Ravens in Baltimore last week.

“We got beat like we stole something,” is the way linebacker James Harrison put it this week. “We got out butt kicked, so we’re going to deal with it and move on.”

To a Seahawks that that will have to deal with – among other things:

The Steelers’ zone blitz – Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would have come after Tarvaris Jackson even before seeing the Seahawks’ quarterback get sacked five times by the 49ers. That’s just how they play defense back here. That’s why they call this place Blitzburgh.

“Well,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said with a nervous smile when asked about the Steelers, “Pittsburgh has a strong tradition of playing strong defense. We know that they’ll be back, they’ll be hungry, they’ll be excited to face a new team and get back on track.

“They present a lot of issues. It’s another 3-4 defense for us and they blitz as much as anyone that we’ll see this year. So it’ll be a big challenge for us.”

Since 2004, the Steelers have more sacks (309) than any team in the league. The past four seasons, they’ve been either No. 1 or No. 2 in the league in that category.

“We’ve just got to match the intensity,” Jackson said when asked about the specific challenges of facing the Steelers’ Blitzburgh defense. “They already are considered a pretty physical team. The guys on their defense are pretty savvy – they’ve been playing together for a long time now and they’ve got a great grasp of the defense.”

That’s why Priority One for the Seahawks is keeping Jackson out of the grasp of that defense.

“That’s the main thing, just try to recognize the defense and try to get the ball to where nobody is so our guys can make plays,” Jackson said.

A quarterback who is at his best when things break down – That would be Ben Roethlisberger, aka “Big Ben.” The Steelers’ 6-foot-5, 241-pound QB can get the best of you even when it might appear you’ve just gotten the best of him.

“You can pull up any game and see him running and making plays happen,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “He’s a big man and difficult to bring down, so we’ve shown that to our players and they’re well aware of it.”

In addition to being difficult to bring down, Roethlisberger isn’t your typical scrambler.

“He doesn’t scramble to throw it short, or hit a check-down, or dump it to a back,” Bradley said. “He’s scrambling to throw it deep. So it’s really our deep players – whether it’s half-field coverage or quarters coverage – it’s important that our safeties are back.”

Last week, strong safety Kam Chancellor (nine tackles) and free safety Earl Thomas (eight) were most impressive while forcing the issue and making plays closer to the line of scrimmage.

Not-so-special teams – These units were the best and most consistent aspect of the Seahawks last season. In the opener, they cost the team a chance to steal a victory. It wasn’t just the 102-yard kickoff return and 55-yard punt return they yielded to Ted Ginn Jr. in one decisive 59-second blur of the fourth quarter; it also was the penalties that wiped out positive plays.

The Seahawks won’t have co-captain Michael Robinson or rookie Byron Maxwell, who sprained ankles against the 49ers. So others will have to step up.

 Ideal? Hardly. But those are just the most obvious challenges that await the Seahawks.

“This is a great matchup for us – a fantastic team,” Carroll said. “We know them very well, just because everybody knows the Pittsburgh Steelers.”