Lamenting ones that got away Steelers' defense blames loss on its missed tackles

December 02, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Of the many images that linger from the Ravens' 31-17 victory yesterday at Memorial Stadium, some of the most vivid are of Rod Woodson, the Pittsburgh Steelers' six-time Pro Bowl cornerback, sprawled on the field holding nothing but air. Another failed tackle that led to another long gain.

Once, Woodson lowered a shoulder into Ravens running back Bam Morris and bounced off him like a raindrop as the former Steeler rambled for 13 yards. Another time, he came up on receiver Derrick Alexander after a short completion, overran him along the sideline and watched the play go for 53 yards. And after that, he had a chance to stop Floyd Turner shy of a first down, but couldn't maintain his grasp of the Ravens receiver, who picked up 12 yards to move the chains.

Maybe it was more the position than the man. Deon Figures blew a tackle on Alexander on the very next play after replacing Woodson briefly in the third quarter. The play went for 19 yards and a first down.

"We gave up too many big plays on defense," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "We didn't block, we didn't tackle, we didn't do the basic things it takes to win football games."

It was suggested the rain that fell throughout the game had something to do with the Steelers' difficulties, a theory Cowher shot down like an expert marksman.

lTC "The last time I looked, both teams were playing in it," he said.

The last time Cowher looked, Woodson was having trouble doing so, as were some of his teammates.

Woodson's explanation?

"Just not breaking down, not concentrating," he said. "I was coming up thinking a guy might try to run me over, so I'm trying to get my shoulder pads lower and put a little extra into it, and the next thing I know, he's cutting away from me. When that happens, especially at the cornerback position, they're going to get a lot of yardage."

"They're a good football team," said safety Darren Perry, "but we didn't tackle at all today. I can think of any number of plays where the first guy there didn't make the tackle and they were gaining yards after the catch. That's something we have to go back and look at with a critical eye and make sure we clean everything up for the stretch run."

How healthy will the Steelers be for it? Tight end Mark Bruener went down with a knee injury during Monday night's victory in Miami, and strong safety Carnell Lake sprained his left knee in the fourth quarter yesterday and could miss the remaining three games of the regular season.

"I can't worry about things you have no control over," Cowher said. "We've got enough depth on this football team that we'll find a way to overcome it because we have no choice."

Myron Bell, in his third season out of Michigan State, will replace Lake. He's familiar with the position, having started nine games there last season -- including the Super Bowl -- after Woodson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

"I look at it as an opportunity, again," said Bell. "I have to step up. I'm ready for the challenge."

Said receiver Charles Johnson: "Myron's not a rookie; he's a certified veteran. If he's in there, no one's going to be like, 'Oh Lord, Myron's in there.' Everyone's going to be confident."

Cornerback Willie Williams heard that Lake could be out three weeks and said, "I hope it's not that long; we're going to need Carnell. But Myron knows the defense. I don't think we'll miss a beat."

They will if they keep missing so many tackles.

Pub Date: 12/02/96

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