Ed Bouchette, the Dean of the Steelers press corps., has observed that lever to the success of 3-4 zone blitz can be found in the nose tackle’s knees. History proves his point.
The 1998 and 1999 Steelers started both seasons off playing dominant defense despite the absence of studs like Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown and, in 1999, Carnell Lake.
The operative phrase is "started both seasons." In both campaigns the defense fell apart late in the season and in both years the defense's decline can be traced directly to the deterioration of Joel Steed’s knees. (Steed in fact retired after '99.)
Since 2001 the Pittsburgh Steelers have consistently posted one of the NFL’s best defenses. Big Snack Casey Hampton was drafted by the Steelers in 2001. Those two events are not coincidental.
As a rookie Hampton who only needed 5 weeks to beat out incumbent starter Kendrick Clancy.
Neither the Steelers nor Hampton have looked back since. Casey Hampton has quite simply anchored some of the best defenses in Steelers history.
Trying to measure the impact of nose tackles in the 3-4 is kind of like trying to measure the influence of B2B marketing in corporate revenue streams – you know you need a good nose tackle, but its hard to put a number on his performance:
- 3-4 nose tackle’s don’t pull down eye popping statistics
- They rarely make the ESPN highlight reels
- Quarterbacks are seldom said to “fear” nose tackles
Casey Hampton has never had as many as three sacks in a season, never had a tackle total above 45. But he’s been one of the best 3-4 nose tackles in the business during his time in the NFL, and this video (available 3/3/13) show just how poor of a guide statistics can be at times:
When the Steelers have needed him, Casey Hampton has stepped up, and perhaps no bigger moment reveals that than his sack of Matt Hasselbeck in Super Bowl XL, which not coincidentally was the first play on the video.
Can the Steelers Keep Casey?
Casey Hampton has started for 12 straight years with the Steelers, an impressive run by any measure.
Alas, all things come to an end. The quality of the Steelers run defense began to slip in 2011 and Hampton was injured in the Teebowing the Steelers suffered vs. Denver in the playoffs.
Many fans thought that Hampton was done, and he only returned for his 12th season after agreeing to a pay cut. Casey Hampton clearly showed by the end of the 2012 season that he has something left and he’s a free agent.
The Steelers will most certainly allow Hampton to test the free agent waters where he’s likely to get an offer, and he’ll likely play his final football in colors other than Black and Gold.
That will be sad, but it will be an unfortunate necessity – knowing when to let go of aged veterans is just as important to a team’s development as is evaluating youth. And unlike the situation the Steelers face with James Harrison and Jason Worilds, Steve McLendon is ready to step up.
- Its time for the Steelers to set Hampton free.