Trends go back to LeBeau’s days in Cincinnati
As Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator from 1984-1991, the Bengals allowed a league-worst 27 game-winning drives (tied with Cleveland and Minnesota). Included are a few famous ones against Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers.
On September 20, 1987, the Bengals led 26-20, but just turned the ball over on downs at their own 25. With only two seconds left on the clock, Montana had one shot, and somehow Jerry Rice was left one-on-one for the game-winning touchdown against LeBeau’s defense.
That is the shortest one-minute drill since 1981, and perhaps in NFL history. When else has a team taken over with two seconds left, needing a touchdown, and won the game?
The next year the teams would meet in Super Bowl XXIII, and Montana led the first ever classic game-winning drive late in the big game. He completed 8-of-9 passes for 97 yards and the touchdown to John Taylor with 0:34 left. It was flawless, and LeBeau could only watch it happen to his defense.
LeBeau’s defense not elite versus the elites
Great quarterbacks have very few problems playing LeBeau’s defense. Here are the numbers Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have had against him in Pittsburgh since 2004.
Only Favre struggled, and while the record is close to .500, some of the wins have only been possible because LeBeau has a quarterback of this caliber on his side.
Roethlisberger saved the 2008 Steelers from the all-time Super Bowl choke with his epic drive to beat Arizona on the Santonio Holmes’ touchdown. He did the same a year later to beat Rodgers and Green Bay on the final play of the game after LeBeau’s defense blew another double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
All three of Roethlisberger’s wins over Eli Manning and Drew Brees saw him lead a game-winning drive (two were comebacks).
The numbers would be even worse for LeBeau if you included how the quarterbacks fared against him when he coached as an assistant in Pittsburgh (1992-1996), Cincinnati (1997-2002) and Buffalo (2003).
Including those games, these seven quarterbacks have the following lofty numbers combined: 21-11 (.656), 738 of 1,067 (69.2 percent) for 8,401 yards, 7.87 YPA, 59 TD, 17 INT, and a 104.3 passer rating.
Peyton Manning is 7-1 against LeBeau, and the only loss was in the 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game. Even in that game Manning trailed 21-3 in the fourth quarter and almost won the game in the final minute with another record comeback. Jerome Bettis helped with a fumble, but Roethlisberger made the tackle and the only thing preventing overtime was a missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt.
As defensive coordinator in Cincinnati (1984-1991), it was more of the same when LeBeau went up against the game's best quarterbacks. Joe Montana (4-0), Dan Marino (3-0) and John Elway (3-0) combined for a 10-0 record with 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 95.7 passer rating.
This does not really jive with the New York Giants for example, who are like the opposite version of LeBeau’s Steelers.
Winners of two recent Super Bowls, we now know they have allowed the fewest game-winning drives (9) in the league since 2007, and they also have been outstanding in the postseason against amazing competition on the road.
In each of the 11 playoff games in the Tom Coughlin era, the Giants have never allowed more than 23 points. They have held three of the 10 highest scoring teams in NFL history to 20 or fewer points, including 14 points to the undefeated 2007 Patriots and 20 points to the No. 2 scoring team in history, the 2011 Green Bay Packers.
Whereas LeBeau’s defense made Aaron Rodgers look unstoppable in Super Bowl XLV, the Giants went into Lambeau last year and dominated the Green Bay offense. Do not even get me started on how much more success the Giants have had against Tom Brady.
Does New York ever have great defensive stats in the regular season? No, but they usually show up big late in games, in the playoffs, and against some of the best offenses ever. That formula is proven to win championships too.
Fair or not, LeBeau’s championship runs will not be remembered for shutting down elite offenses, but instead will be remembered for Carson Palmer’s torn ACL after one pass, Roethlisberger’s tackle of Nick Harper after Jerome Bettis’ fumble, the officiating against Seattle in Super Bowl XL, Troy Polamalu’s pick six of a rookie Joe Flacco, and Roethlisberger to Holmes on the last drive.
How do you want your defense to be remembered? Great stats or great moments?
Dick LeBeau’s legacy is secured because of how hard it is to rewrite a narrative, especially for someone with over 50 years of experience in football.
He seems like a great guy who obviously has found a fountain of youth somewhere, and his players love him like a father. There’s no denying anything about his character.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Why is that? Perhaps it is because trailing teams and teams with great quarterbacks will throw the football, and LeBeau’s Pittsburgh defense was built to stop the run, which is less significant in today’s game.
Without a ton of talent at cornerback, and a stubbornness to continue playing with such large cushions — or to play no real pass defense at all against Tim Tebow in the playoffs — a quarterback can easily get into a rhythm and pick this defense apart as long as the protection is picking up the blitzes, which are no longer very innovative in 2012.
After writing this the Steelers will probably intercept Andy Dalton three times in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but that’s only going to be one game. These defensive lapses go back decades for LeBeau.
So the next time you see the Steelers helplessly sending blitzes to no avail as a team marches down the field in the final minute to beat them, just remember that this happens frequently to LeBeau’s defenses.
Legend or not, the defensive letdowns are just as much a part of his career as the successes.
Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network.
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