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Pittsburgh Steelers changing defensive philosophy

An old defensive coordinator still can teach some new tricks.

Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive guru Dick LeBeau is asking his defensive ends to rush the passer on the edge more than before.

"We definitely need to get more pressure up front," Brett Keisel said Tuesday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There's been an emphasis more on (ends) getting on the edge rather than just pushing the pocket, getting on the edge and trying to make something happen."

This is a dramatic change in philosophy for LeBeau from recent seasons. The Steelers traditionally have been a 3-4 team that asks their defensive ends to occupy blockers, do the dirty work and let the outside linebackers grab the glory. The change perhaps is a recognition that the Steelers have more questions at outside linebacker than usual and solid depth at defensive end.

Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward will be asked to push upfield more. This goes along with NFL trends where many 3-4 teams have "one gap" ends, whereas LeBeau always has asked his ends to occupy two gaps. Players like J.J. Watt and Corey Liuget are changing the way we look at 3-4 defensive ends. 

"We've kind of changed our techniques (from) years past until now," said Keisel, who led the Steelers by a wide margin with 41 pressures in 2012. "In years past, when we had James (Harrison) and LaMarr (Woodley), it was mostly just push the pocket, try to collapse the pocket, make the quarterback flush and those guys would be there to clean him up. That's what we were taught."

This change shouldn't be a shock. LeBeau, 75 years young, has made a career out of adjusting to offenses and coming up with solutions when his "system" isn't working. That's how the zone blitz was born.

To get back to the old Pittsburgh Steelers defense, LeBeau knew some things needed to change.

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