'Fantastic 4' Dreaming of Perfect Ending to Steelers' Script
DALLAS -- Think Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers, think Fantastic Four.
Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison are the "4'' in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. The Fantastic Four. If you are going to employ the 3-4 defense, you need four extraordinary linebackers to give the tactic its groove.
The Steelers, of course, feature an affluent history of prize linebackers, including Hall-of-Fame ones Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. Both led the franchise to repeat Super Bowl glory.
Timmons, Farrior, Woodley and Harrison have that shot in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday.
Farrior and Harrison reach for a third ring. Timmons and Woodley for a second.
The Fantastic Four.
"Well,'' said Steelers rookie linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, "the comic and movie heroes in the Fantastic Four are the fire guy, the elastic, the invisible and the hard rock. Timmons is the fire guy -- speed. Farrior is the elastic -- knowledgeable, smart. LaMarr is the invisible -- he's got the bull rush. And Harrison is the hard rock -- he's got the strong rip move.
"Put 'em together and we've got our own 'Fantastic Four.' And I think the new guy in the movies being added to the original group is the Silver Surfer. Give me some time. I'll take that one.''
The Steelers funnel everything on defense to their linebackers. They are big, they are fast and their task is to dominate. They do. Timmons led the team in tackles with 149 followed by Farrior with 137; Harrison finished fourth with 100; Woodley eighth with 55. This quartet produced 29 1/2 of Pittsburgh's 48 sacks.
They are prime reasons why the Steelers defense ranked first in the NFL in nearly every meaningful defensive category this season, including fewest points allowed per game (14.5).
They know the Green Bay Packers' piercing offense is the challenge in Super Bowl XLV. But this group is equally challenged by extraordinary standards.
"When you come to Pittsburgh, you learn about the tradition and history of the defense and definitely the linebackers,'' Woodley said. "Me being a linebacker, I have to live up to that.''
Farrior added: "We are competing against history as much as we are against the Packers in this game. We have to win this game to even begin to be able to compare ourselves with those guys from the '70s. They won four Super Bowls. There is a lot of pressure there to uphold that kind of quality and that kind of standard.''
It is Woodley and Harrison on the outside, Timmons and Farrior on the inside. Farrior makes the defensive calls.
Pittsburgh linebackers coach Keith Butler tells his group they are good, not great. Win this Super Bowl and we'll talk about that, he says.
Despite the mind games, Butler knows he has a fantastic group. Here is his analysis of each:
Timmons: "All the talent you could want in a linebacker. He can run, cover, hit and blitz. He has to work to become great. I think he'd like to be great. But he's got to find a way to do it. It's not just going to happen by coming up and biting him in the butt. He's on his way.''
Farrior: "A great guy to have in the locker room. A great guy to have on the field, almost like a coach out there, almost like a peer. He is a leader of men. That's his role. He runs that defense out there.''
Woodley: "A 280-pounder who can stand up and run over people who has surprised me this year in how well he has played in pass coverage. He's good now. I think he can be great. I think he can get a little lazy sometimes because he is so good and that makes me mad. But man, he hates to be wrong. He hates to hurt his team. That's a great quality.''
Harrison: "Mr. Bravado. He has come up and earned his stripes. We understand where he comes from. A guy who gets his teammates to try to match him on the field. A pleasure to coach. A pain in the butt to coach, too. He plays as hard as anybody on this team.''
Butler says that the Steelers attempt to eliminate gray areas for these linebackers. Butler wants them running fast, hitting hard, not thinking more than performing. As complex and conniving as the Steelers' zone-blitzing defense can evolve, Butler said that he and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau "toss stuff out'' if it means hampering instincts.
The group feeds off each other.
"We are taught to play in a big, physical manner,'' Timmons said. "The physical style of our overall defense starts with us. Everybody in the group knows we have to instigate and bring that.''
They may not be a finished product. Regardless, they are fantastic. And Harrison says that how successful his group is at fracturing the Packers offense is the crux of Super Bowl XLV.
"Everything is a work in progress,'' Harrison said. "We would be selling ourselves short if we think we have already arrived. But the way we feel is that if our linebackers play well, we are going to win this game. It's a collective effort, true. But this defense depends on the linebackers. And we depend on each other to be the difference.''