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Question of the Day
LeBeau, who was head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2000-02, doesn’t look like a man who will be 76 when next season opens.
“He’s like a grandfather _ but I don’t want to say grandfather because he doesn’t really act like a typical grandfather,” Foote said. “He’s a man of a lot of jokes and wisdom and he encourages everybody.
“He can get around, especially when all his buddies come in. He’s always screaming, always running around, doing push-ups.”
Keenly aware of where his defense ranks, LeBeau could have gone out with a team that has a chance of finishing the season No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense. Heading into the season finale Sunday against Cleveland (5-10), the Steelers are No. 2 in rushing defense and No. 1 in the other two categories.
But those stout numbers haven’t translated into enough victories this season, with Pittsburgh (7-8) set to miss the playoffs for only the third time in LeBeau’s 14 seasons on the staff. He was Cowher’s defensive backfield coach from 1992-94.
Despite the gaudy overall rankings this season, LeBeau’s Steelers weren’t the “closers” they were in the past. Four times, Pittsburgh blew a fourth-quarter lead. The Steelers also uncharacteristically finished in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks and turnovers forced.
“The truth of the matter is we didn’t get off to a really good start on defense this year,” LeBeau said. “I don’t think it was ever quite as bad as it was perceived to be, but we weren’t playing the way we wanted to play. For, I’d say over a month and a half now, our third down numbers have been good. We got a little behind early in all phases, but these guys stayed together and played pretty doggone good defense and got us back to where we like to be, up near the top of the bunch.”
As usual, LeBeau credits the players for the defense’s success. That’s just one reason why they share such adulation for him.
“He sets the tone,” Foote said. “He’s the reason. He always brings us guys together. He puts us in the right situation to make plays.”
Notes: TE Heath Miller was named team MVP after a vote by the players. Miller, who has a team-high 71 receptions and is tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns, had surgery Thursday to repair multiple torn ligaments in his right knee. He is the first tight end to win the award. … RT Mike Adams was named team rookie of the year and NT Casey Hampton was given the “Chief Award” for cooperation with the media.
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