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Steelers' defense looks ready to go

By John Harris
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, August 24, 2008

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MINNEAPOLIS

What a difference a game plan makes.

As advertised, the Steelers promised to pretend that Saturday night's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings was actually a regular-season contest.

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No more plain-vanilla defense. More like tutti-frutti.

Starting with a steady diet of Aaron Smith terrorizing Minnesota's backfield.

Smith, the starting left end, looked as quick and strong as he did at any point last season before suffering a biceps injury that caused him to miss the final four games. He had three tackles and one sack in the first quarter.

Led by Smith, the Steelers limited Minnesota to 13 yards on its first eight plays.

On Minnesota's opening drive, the Steelers' different looks confused the Vikings, who were called for three false starts and were forced to punt after failing to convert on third and 23.

During that series, second-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons, becoming more and more of a fixture in the rotation, flanked out wide to his left and shadowed receiver Aundrae Allison.

The Steelers were most dangerous when they had only two defensive linemen on the field, Smith and right end Brett Keisel. The formation worked best in obvious passing situations, which was a tribute to the Steelers and their ability to stifle dangerous running back Adrian Peterson.

Peterson never got untracked. He leaped over the top of the defense for a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter following a Rashard Mendenhall fumble at the Steelers' 47.

Faced with a short field, the Steelers couldn't shut down Minnesota's short passing game and failed to keep the Vikings out of the end zone.

Still, the Steelers provided evidence that they learned a lesson from last week's loss to Buffalo. Their defense aggressively attacked the ball but did so within the confines of the system.

When Peterson attempted to run wide left on first and goal, the Steelers remained in their lanes and strung out the play. Safety Tyrone Carter and Timmons pushed Peterson out of bounds for a 3-yard loss.

In the second quarter, cornerback Ike Taylor jumped a sideline route and intercepted Gus Frerotte's pass intended for Sidney Rice, giving the Steelers a first down deep in Minnesota territory.

The turnover gift-wrapped a Jeff Reed field goal that sliced Minnesota's lead to 7-3 while providing more than enough evidence that the regular season can't start soon enough for the Steelers' defense.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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