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Steelers Cook: A performance worth savoring

Monday, October 02, 2000

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- That was some celebration Tim Lewis had last night. Can you blame him? A guy wins his first game as a defensive coordinator one time. Who's going to begrudge him a nice cigar, a cold beer and a nice, quiet dinner with the wife?


It sounded like great fun, but this morning will be even better for Lewis.

"The last couple of weeks, I've gone in to watch the film with my stomach in my throat. We've given up some big plays. The head coach is upset. He's growling ..."

You should have seen Lewis' grin.

"I'm looking forward to watching this film."

It's a classic.

The last time the Steelers played better defense than they did in their 24-13 shocker against the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday, guys named Greene, Lambert, Ham and Blount were making the plays.

For a change, there were no miscommunications. No blown coverages. No missed tackles. No big plays. No wasted fourth-quarter leads.

And, happily for everyone at Steelers headquarters today, no growls from the head coach.

"We imposed our will," Bill Cowher said.

You want run defense? The Steelers held the Jaguars to a franchise-low 26 rushing yards. Fred Taylor didn't gain a yard on seven first-half carries and finished with 24 yards on 15 carries.

"We told the secondary guys, 'You worry about the pass. We'll handle the run.' " Holmes said. "Then we went out and did it."

You want pressure on the quarterback? The Steelers had two sacks in the first three games. They got Mark Brunell seven times yesterday.

"That was the key for me," Lewis said.

You want pass coverage? Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith had more catches for more yards than anyone the past four-plus years and was leading the NFL in catches, yards and touchdowns again. He didn't make his first catch yesterday -- for 8 yards -- until late in the third quarter. His only other reception -- for 12 yards -- came in garbage time.

"He shouldn't have even had that first one," cornerback Dewayne Washington said.

Now, he was growling.

He wanted to shut Smith out. He darn near did.

"It was third-and-7 and I knew they were going to come to him quick," Washington said. "But I had to give him room because of the [blitz] coverage we were in. I didn't like that call by the coaches."

Lewis wasn't offended. He loves that aggressiveness. He preached all week to his defense not to lose its aggressiveness.

That wasn't as easy as it sounds. The defense cost the Steelers wins against Cleveland and Tennessee. It couldn't stop the big play, especially late.

Statistics are what you make of them, but these two didn't lie:

The Steelers ranked 27th out of 31 in total defense coming into yesterday and 30th out of 31 in pass defense.

"It was embarrassing," Washington said.

Lewis liked what he saw in practice last week. But he preached anyway.

"Keep doing what you're doing. Keep working. But at some point, you have to put your foot down and say, 'Now is our time.' "

It happened early in the game when the Jaguars blocked a Josh Miller punt and took possession at the Steelers' 4. The last thing Kordell Stewart, getting the start at quarterback, needed was to fall behind, 7-0. The team didn't need that whole here-we-go-again thing. Not at 0-3.

Linebacker Jason Gildon stopped Taylor for 1 yard. Safety Lee Flowers tackled Taylor after a 2-yard gain. Brunell's third-down pass was incomplete. The Jaguars settled for a field goal.

"The biggest series of the game," Cowher said.

That's the way the defense played all day.

"It seemed like every time I looked at TV or ESPN, I'd hear about what we can't do," Flowers said. "But inside our little world -- inside this locker room -- we know we have a good defense."

Lewis really will love re-living every minute of it. But his fun will last only until this afternoon when he takes his first look at Vinny Testaverde, Curtis Martin and Wayne Chrebet. The unbeaten New York Jets are next for the Steelers.

They sing a song about that, don't they?

"Mommas, don't let your boys grow up to be coaches ..."

Well, they should.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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