Steelers steal way to best start since '82

September 15, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

The Pittsburgh Steelers still are learning the intricacies of their new defense, but one phase of the game they appear to have mastered is the turnover. After two weeks, they lead the NFL in takeaways (12) and interceptions (nine).

Not coincidentally, the 2-0 Steelers are off to their best start since 1982.

"We're trying to emphasize aggressiveness and turning the ball over," said defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who left the New Orleans Saints to join Bill Cowher's staff in Pittsburgh. "Next to points allowed, that has the second biggest impact on a football game."

A year ago under now-retired coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers were a read-and-react defense. This season they're a bTC search-and-destroy defense. They raked Warren Moon for five interceptions in a season-opening, 29-24 upset of the Oilers in Houston. In a 27-10 demolition of the visiting New York Jets on Sunday, they swiped four more passes and recovered three fumbles.

The highlight of the defensive orgy was a 65-yard touchdown run with an interception by strong safety Larry Griffin, who picked off a Ken O'Brien pass on the dead run and never broke stride.

All of a sudden, the defensive touchdown has become a league-wide rage. Griffin's score was one of eight by defensive players Sunday. Jets cornerback Mike Brim had a 77-yard interception return on a tipped pass in the same game.

Two weeks into the season, NFL defenses have accounted for 14 TDs. That's well ahead of the pace of 1991, when the 14th defensive score didn't come until Week 4.

The Kansas City Chiefs are the only team in the league to have returned interceptions for touchdowns in each of their first two games, including a 99-yarder by cornerback Kevin Ross in Week Linebacker Lonnie Marts went 36 yards with an interception to score in Sunday's 26-7 victory over Seattle.

"In our case, it's been errant passes [that led to those scores]," said Dave Adolph, the Chiefs' defensive coordinator. "The one to Ross was a tipped pass when we were in man-to-man coverage, and the other was a poorly thrown pass when we were in a zone."

The Steelers, who had 19 interceptions all last year, are getting big dividends from zone defense.

Griffin leads the Steelers with three interceptions, and three players have two -- cornerbacks Rod Woodson and David Johnson, and free safety Darren Perry. The Steelers know what to do with the ball once they've got it, too. They're averaging 26.7 yards per return.

Deja vu

When Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills and Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers combined for 852 passing yards in Sunday's offensive extravaganza -- won by Buffalo, 34-31 -- it was reminiscent of another shootout between the two quarterbacks.

That was the 1985 United States Football League opener, when Kelly, then of the Houston Gamblers, and Young, of the Los Angeles Express, combined for more than 1,000 yards at the L.A. Coliseum. Kelly won that game, too.

Young passed for 449 yards Sunday and Kelly 403. It was the eighth time a 49ers quarterback has thrown for 400 yards. The other seven were by Joe Montana.

Turnaround in Tampa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who had thrown 33 more interceptions than touchdowns coming into this season, is a new man under new coach Sam Wyche. In Sunday's 31-3 flogging of the Green Bay Packers, Testaverde completed 22 of 25 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran for another. And he was playing with an ear infection.

Outfitted in new, orange pants and armed with a new offense, Testaverde has thrown for three touchdowns -- with no interceptions -- in the Bucs' two victories. He attributes his long-awaited success to Wyche's arrival.

"He was a quarterback," Testaverde said. "He knows how quarterbacks think. This is the first time since I've been here that I've had the confidence I've had in college."

Timm-ber

Phoenix Cardinals quarterback Timm Rosenbach took every snap in 1990, but hasn't made it through a game without injury since then. He needed major surgery after a training camp knee injury last season. In two games this year, he's been knocked unconscious by the Bucs and suffered a separated shoulder against Philadelphia. He's expected to miss at least a month after being sacked by Clyde Simmons.

Miscellaneous

When Dallas blocked a punt by Sean Landeta in a 34-28 victory over the New York Giants and turned it into a touchdown, it marked their sixth blocked punt in the past 11 games. The Cowboys also partially blocked another Landeta kick. . . Eagles reclamation project Herschel Walker has rushed for consecutive 100-yard games for only the second time in his seven-year career.

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