Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Newsstands Now

The folks at Sports Illustrated were nice enough to send along an image of the cover of this week's issue of the magazine ~ and it is just too lovely not to share.

They also included a press release outlining their coverage of last Sunday's matchup between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and I'm including it here in its entirety:

"(NEW YORK – December 16, 2008) – Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the best defenses of the decade, met to decide the AFC North—and to settle the debate over which unit can claim to be the NFL's best. The answer is etched in steel, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, appears on the cover of the December 22, 2008, issue of Sports Illustrated, with the billing, STEEL CURTAIN II -DEFENSE - That Same Old December Song in the NFL.

In this week’s cover story titled D As in Dominant, SI senior writer Jim Trotter says of the game and the defenses: “Sunday’s battle provided everything one would expect from the NFL's top-ranked defenses, with offensive advances seemingly measured in inches rather than yards…. As the Steelers walked to the locker room afterward, one member of the defense barked, ‘Fourteen games in a row! Fourteen games in row! There shouldn't be no debate now!’ What he meant was, the 11–3 Steelers, who entered the game with the league's No. 1 defense, have held their opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense in every game this season, tying the postmerger record set by the Los Angeles Rams in 1973; and any talk that the Ravens’ No. 2-ranked defense is the better unit should cease” (page 34).

Trotter adds: “Despite the hostile nature of the rivalry, there is a mutual respect between the two units, and they are more alike than players on either side care to admit.”

The masterminds behind the two defenses are coordinators Dick LeBeau (Steelers) and Rex Ryan (Ravens). Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin praises LeBeau: “Dick is the epitome of a team player. He has no ego. He just wants to win. If I had come in and tried to change the defense, it would have been about ego. But we all have to check our egos at the door. I’ve worked with guys like Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin, and I viewed working with Dick as another opportunity to work with a brilliant defensive mind. Every day he’s tinkering, trying to figure out how to do something better. He comes to work with an emphasis on getting better every day.”

Continuing on Rex Ryan [son of Buddy], Trotter says: “[Ryan] has tweaked the D to his liking, making it even more unpredictable and aggressive. He seemingly comes up with new pressure packages in his sleep, but one thing he refuses to change is what he looks for in a player.”

Ryan says: “It’s not necessarily the position, it’s the disposition. You’ve got to have the right guys, the right mentality, to have consistency. Every now and then you get a flash-in-the-pan team that shows up and has a decent year on defense. But for the most part it’s usually us and Pittsburgh right there with each other, and I think it has a lot to do with the type of players we have—and the mind-set of those players. There’s a passion that both teams play with on defense.”

As part of the cover story, SI senior writer Peter King takes a more in depth look at the philosophies of LeBeau and Ryan.

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