The league outlawed the head slap and essentially made offensive holding legal. Defensive backs no longer can mug a receiver until the ball’s thrown. Thus, defensive lines aren’t in position to maul, to dominate a game where the rules were altered to favor passing offenses.
So, along comes a three-man defensive line such as the Steelers’ with Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Kimo von Oelhoffen (above). Just try running against them. No one can.
They served as the lead actors that made the Steelers the toughest defense to run against in the NFL last season, and they head into the 1 p.m. kickoff today against the Jacksonville Jaguars without allowing a 100-yard rusher in the past 18 games, including two in the playoffs. It’s the longest current stretch of any NFL team.
You want a nickname? Von Oelhoffen, a 34-year-old veteran of 12 NFL seasons has it: The NFL’s best defensive line.
Among 3-4 lines?
“I believe among all,” he said.
Six days ago they stuffed the runner Bill Cowher called the best in the league, one defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau labeled among the best of all time. San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson, who had no fewer than 1,335 rushing yards in each of his past four seasons and led the AFC last week with 450 yards in four games, managed a mere 62 yards on 18 carries against the Steelers. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry in his first four games, 3.4 against the Steelers Monday night.
Lines in 3-4 defenses work in near anonymity, normally. Their jobs are to attract double-teams and allow the four linebackers to clean up. That’s one reason so many Pro Bowl linebackers passed through Pittsburgh during its 22 years playing the 3-4.
A funny thing happened to this group, though. The players are recognized. Hampton, a 330-pound gobbet with strength and quickness, made the Pro Bowl at nose tackle in 2003. A torn ACL ended last season after six games but he’s back in the middle. Smith, a 300-pounder at left end, made the Pro Bowl last season. Von Oelhoffen has been doing his thing in the league since 1994.
Ends are not supposed to lead 3-4 defenses in sacks. No lineman led the Steelers in sacks since Tim Johnson did so for the sad-sack 1988 outfit with four before von Oelhoffen did it with eight in 2003 and Smith with eight last season.
The Steelers will cope with Ben Rothlisberger’s absence today by handing their offense to a former league MVP. The league in question was the XFL, but there are worse backup options at QB than Tommy Maddox. Just ask Brooks Bollinger.