From the pages of Steelers Digest, Part 2


Another in a series of sample articles from Steelers Digest looking back on the 2008 season.
Steelers Digest has been the official publication of the Pittsburgh Steelers since its inception in 1988. For 21 seasons, Steelers Digest has offered the most comprehensive coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers with its unmatched complement of news, insight and opinion. The following appeared in the Nov. 1, 2008 edition of Steelers Digest and allowed former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson, an analyst for NFL Network's Total Access, to offer his opinion on a variety of issues.
"Talking Polamalu and playoffs"
* Troy Polamalu is extremely good. When you look at him play from afar, he is instinctive, and his pattern reads are done well. By pattern reads, I mean that he will see underneath routes and instead of jumping those, he knows what type of combinations come with that.
It's very hard to find a player who is instinctive and can understand route combinations and how to pattern-read with what the offense is trying to do to the defense. Polamalu is doing a great job with it, and he also gives his body up week in and week out, sometimes at the risk of injury as happened in the game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
He is flying around to the ball. You can see him on the line of scrimmage and then the play begins and the ball is down the field, all of a sudden he's down the field. You don't know how he got there, but he's there. That's what makes him so unique.
* Any evaluation of the top defensive backs in the NFL today varies depending upon the position. A safety in today's National Football League, with the way offenses spread people out and want to throw the football, you want a safety who is versatile. You don't want a safety who's a linebacker, because that can become a detriment to the defense because he can't cover. You're looking for a guy who is tough, physical at the line of scrimmage, is physical with the thick running backs, tight ends and linemen pulling and trying to block him. At the same time, he has to have good feet, speed and instincts be able to cover in the secondary.
* If I was to put together a dream secondary by using both former and current players, it would be Mel Blount, Ronnie Lott, Michael Haynes, and because I want somebody versatile, Carnell Lake.
* The one thing you try to teach defensive backs is that you have to stay with your guy until the quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage. A quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger breaks the tackles of pass-rushers to makes plays down the field; he doesn't move out of the pocket to run the ball.
He is trying to hurt you with his feet by getting out of the pocket and throwing the ball down the field. It would be difficult dealing with a quarterback like him, because if you're an aggressive defensive back like I was, you're going to want to look in the backfield, want to make a hit on this big quarterback.
Roethlisberger is making a lot of big plays by getting out of that pocket, throwing a defender to the side to avoid the sack and looking down the field. An aggressive defensive back is going to want to come up and help your defensive teammates, even though the coaches tell you to wait until the quarterback crosses that line of scrimmage. That's the fine line all secondary players face.
* I had someone ask me recently what team I enjoyed playing for the most. I enjoyed playing with all of them, but the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney family took a chance on me. They brought me in to be a part of their family. I still have a lot of friendships from that time in my career; I still talk to a lot of people in the Steelers organization and in Pittsburgh. I have a lot of friendships around that area.
As you get more mature and step away from the game, you cherish the moments, especially my 10 years in Pittsburgh. They were valuable. I think I acquired the vast majority of my football knowledge in Pittsburgh. The coaching staff had so much knowledge and they gave it to the players, they gave it to me. Without being there, I don't know where I would have gotten in the league.
* If I had to pick one game from my Steelers career that stands out for me personally, it would be vs. the New Orleans Saints at Three Rivers Stadium in 1993. I had a return for a touchdown, I had two interceptions. It was one of those situations where a basketball player might say the hoop seemed to get bigger, or a running back would say all the defensive players on the field seemed to slow down.
It was one of those games for me – everything seemed like it was in slow motion. It seemed like the receivers were running in mud because it was so easy to cover them. I think I played my best overall game on that one particular Sunday.
* In the neighborhood where I live in California, there is a family from the Pittsburgh area that flies their Steelers flag every Sunday. When the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, they had that flag flying and at the time I didn't even know they were from Pittsburgh. You realize Steelers fans are everywhere, in every nook and cranny in America. From the biggest city to the smallest town, Steelers fans are everywhere.
* The race for Super Bowl XLIII is wide open. A lot of people believe the balance of power has shifted to the NFC, others believe the Dallas Cowboys are the team to beat. But for the last few weeks, it didn't look that way.
You look at the AFC teams, and you never know. The Steelers are playing well. The Colts offense looks like it found some rhythm, but then they got beat by the Packers. The Tennessee Titans defense is probably playing the best I have seen a defense play in quite a long time.
But you like it wide open. You don't want somebody to win the Super Bowl in October, which of course you can't. The Buffalo Bills are playing good football right now. I like the parity, and the fans like it, too. It's great to see that at the end of October in the National Football League there still are so many teams that can win it.
The first part of the year you play to set yourself up for the playoff run, which is November and December. I don't think any analyst or so-called expert can say without a doubt who the front-runner is because there isn't a true front-runner. If you're a head coach in the NFL, you're telling your players, "We have a shot. If we put a string of wins together and play the way we are capable of playing we have a shot to get in the postseason and get to Tampa for the Super Bowl."
That's what this league is about. It's about having an opportunity at the end of the year to put your team in a situation where you can bring the Lombardi Trophy home. It's every NFL fans' dream to see the competition wide open and to have each coach have the ability to tell his team that we have a shot, keep plugging away. The teams that win consistently in November and December are the ones that will be in the playoffs.
* The biggest key for the Steelers to be a Super Bowl contender is their health. It's staying healthy. That, plus get the running game going. They have to get the running game going again, because the Steelers live off that. Face it, all five Super Bowl trophies have come off the running game. When they won Super Bowl XL, they were 8-5 and the running game wasn't working that well at that point. Down the stretch they got hot and when they got hot the running game got hot.
When your running game is going well at the end of the year, and you have Dick LeBeau putting the defense out there, and Roethlisberger making plays in the passing game the way he has, they can be in Tampa. But they have to stay healthy and get the running game going. If they can do both of those things they can be right there in the mix, right there trying to win their sixth Super Bowl.

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