The Soul Of The Game: Jack Lambert

In the history of pro football no position calls for hitting like Middle Linebacker. Whether facing the line of scrimmage and scraping to meet a runner, taking then shedding the Center, or defeating a Fullback. Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers was a different breed drafted in 1974 to patrol in a different game. Against the run nothing had changed but against the pass, the NFL had just narrowed the hash marks necessitating the need for MLB’s to cover more space against the pass.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the '76 playoffs.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the ’76 playoffs.

Backing behind the Steel Curtain allowed Lambert to “clean-up” runners held up at the line of scrimmage. He was an aggressive tackler and a ferocious hitter. In what has blasphemously become known as the “Tampa 2 Defense” is nothing but what the Steelers did with Lambert dropping him deep between 2 safeties. This caused many downfield collisions.

Lambert’s aggressive playing style meshed with the front four to anchor one of the best defenses in NFL history. Although there wee other great players, Lambert tied it all together patrolling the middle.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #4 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers

Now how could we have a category on the best defenses and defenders in NFL history and not include the Pittsburgh Steelers?? As we moved into the 1970′s following the merger, we saw the hashmarks narrowed in 1974 and the goal posts moved to the end line to provide offenses more room to operate. Scoring had been down for much of the first half of the decade and it was thought this additional field to cover would hamper defenses. Especially those with burly MLB types that had limited range tracking sideline to sideline, or defending the pass.

No one could run on the '76 Steelers

No one could run on the ’76 Steelers

Enter Jack Lambert. A converted outside linebacker who stood 6’4 and stayed at a playing weight of 220 lbs. the majority of his career. What he brought to the table was the speed to get further back than the Willie Lanier’s and the Dick Butkus’, a prior generation’s middle linebackers who were mainly there to stuff the run. His ability to get past twenty yards in pass defense was the impetus for the Steelers to run what is NOW misnamed the “Tampa 2″.

It started in Pittsburgh because against the run and rushing the passer, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene, Dwight White, and LC Greenwood were the finest front four of their era….possibly football history. Lambert, along with outside linebackers Andy Russell, and Jack Ham, only needed to clean up against the run and were already a step back ready to clog the middle and flat areas against the slower tight ends of that era. The result??

A defense put together from astute drafting grew into one of menace that powered the Steelers to victories in both Super Bowls IX and X. In Super Bowl IX the Steelers held the Vikings to just 17 yards rushing for the game. A record that stood until Super Bowl XX. They stood tall and defended against a frantic last second effort in Super Bowl X. So strong was the Steeler defense, Coach Chuck Noll ran the ball on 4th and 9 and let the Cowboys have the ball at their own 40 yard line leaving it up to the defense to win the game. While winning a second straight world title they set the Super Bowl record for sacks with 7.

A young team with an unprecedented chance to win a third straight Super Bowl went into the 1976 season with their front four in their prime.With Terry Bradshaw growing up as a quarterback and growing receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann with one of history’s finest defense….What would they do for an encore?? Could they threepeat??

This team was primarily responsible for the upcoming rule changes of 1978 and this was their best season. For the year they were #1 overall (237.4 y/pg) gave up just 138 points and held 7 of 8 straight opponents to 10 points or less. Five of those came by shutout and the first modern team to record 3 in a row. In fact they only allowed 2 touchdowns in the last 10 games and those came in the same game. A 32-16 win over the Oilers. They had a string of 25 quarters where they didn’t allow a touchdown. They were so good they had to be legislated out of business.

Starting in 1978 they instituted the “Mel Blount Rule” where receivers could only be jammed / hit within the first five yards of the scrimmage line. Blount was bludgeoning receives all down the field until the pass was thrown. Pass protectors were allowed to extend their arms to better protect against the Steel Curtain. The head slap was another tactic taken away from Pittsburgh’s charging front four in 1978. All of these rule changes can be traced back to this group.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

One of the best in history and number 4 on The Chancellor of Football’s list.

Dedicated to the memories of Art Rooney, Chuck Noll, Ernie Holmes, LC Greenwood, & Dwight White.

Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #9 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were definitely known as a defensive football team. They came of age during their run leading up to Super Bowl IX, but it was in the following two seasons they were at their zenith. The late Chuck Noll had a roster that entered its prime on the defensive side first after drafting DT “Mean” Joe Greene in 1969.

The banner that hung in Three Rivers Stadium honoring the Front Four.

The banner that hung in Three Rivers Stadium honoring the Front Four.

As defending Super Bowl champion, everyone gave them their best shot. For all the talk of the ’76 version, this team was equally stout. They only allowed 162 points while holding 8 of 14 opponents to 10 or fewer points. This didn’t include the Cincinnati Bengals, who under Paul Brown and Bill Walsh fashioned the league’s #2 ranked offense. The Steelers did hold them to 24 and 14 points to sweep them as they finished 12-2 to Cincy’s 11-3.

In fact the ’75 AFC Central was the first time in history 3 teams finished with at least 10 wins thanks to the 10-4 Oilers. Take away the games with the Steelers and the Bengals finished 11-1 and Houston 10-2 v the rest of the NFL. Pretty significant to go 4-0 against these two then wouldn’t you say??

When it comes to quality opponents, two of the Steeler’s 8 games of 10 or less allowed  came against top 10 offenses that year. Now add in both the AFC Divisional playoff and the AFC Championship where they gave up 10 points in both wins over Baltimore (12th offense) and Oakland (4th in offense). Then they made it to Super Bowl X and beat the 3rd best offense in the Dallas Cowboys while only yielding 17.

Joe Greene was the 1st Steeler drafted in the Chuck Noll era.

Joe Greene was the 1st Steeler drafted in the Chuck Noll era.

Now this is a heavyweight champ that left little standing in their wake defensively. The lone blemish?? OJ Simpson and Buffalo’s #1 ranked offense got off on them in a 30-21 win. “The Juice” broke for over 200 yards in Three Rivers Stadium. Buffalo ran for 308 yards in that game.

All that withstanding, the Steelers sent 3/4ths of their secondary to the Pro Bowl. Cornerback Mel Blount, who led the league with 11 interceptions, joined FS Mike Wagner and SS Glen Edwards. These guys were behind a good group of Linebackers that included fellow Pro Bowlers Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, and Jack Ham. Yes all three made the Pro Bowl. Once you follow that up with DT “Mean” Joe Greene and DE LC Greenwood, you have 8 of the starting 11 in the Pro Bowl….. Eight!! Come on…that is beyond the college try. Now you know why the ’78 Steelers didn’t make the top ten.

RIP Coach Noll

RIP Coach Noll

This article is dedicated in the memory of DT Ernie Holmes, DE LC Greenwood, DE Dwight White, and former Head Coach Chuck Noll who passed last week.

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The Soul Of the Game: 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

Now how could we have a category on the best defenses and defenders in NFL history and not include the Pittsburgh Steelers?? As we moved into the 1970’s following the merger, we saw the hashmarks narrowed in 1974 and the goal posts moved to the end line to provide offenses more room to operate. Scoring had been down for much of the first half of the decade and it was thought this additional field to cover would hamper defenses. Especially those with burly MLB types that had limited range tracking sideline to sideline, or defending the pass.

Enter Jack Lambert.

A converted outside linebacker who stood 6’4 and stayed at a playing weight of 220 lbs. the majority of his career. What he brought to the table was the speed to get further back than the Willie Lanier’s and the Dick Butkus’, a prior generation’s middle linebackers who were mainly there to stuff the run. His ability to get past twenty yards in pass defense was the impetus for the Steelers to run what is NOW misnamed the “Tampa 2”.

It started in Pittsburgh because against the run and rushing the passer, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene, Dwight White, and LC Greenwood were the finest front four of their era….possibly football history. Lambert, along with outside linebackers Andy Russell, and Jack Ham, only needed to clean up against the run and were already a step back ready to clog the middle and flat areas against the slower tight ends of that era. The result??

A defense put together from astute drafting grew into one of menace that powered the Steelers to victories in both Super Bowls IX and X. In Super Bowl IX the Steelers held the Vikings to just 17 yards rushing for the game. A record that stood until Super Bowl XX. They stood tall and defended against a frantic last second effort in Super Bowl X. So strong was the Steeler defense, Coach Chuck Noll ran the ball on 4th and 9 and let the Cowboys have the ball at their own 40 yard line leaving it up to the defense to win the game. While winning a second straight world title they set the Super Bowl record for sacks with 7.

A young team with an unprecedented chance to win a third straight Super Bowl went into the 1976 season with their front four in their prime.With Terry Bradshaw growing up as a quarterback and growing receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann with one of history’s finest defense….What would they do for an encore?? Could they threepeat??

Well the Steelers didn’t win that Super Bowl and after falling to the Denver Broncos in 1977, they returned to win Super Bowl’s XIII and XIV. It was the impetus to stop this defense along with the Denver Broncos 1977 performance (18 TDs and 148 points allowed) that made the rules makers make changes for  the upcoming 1978 season.

In fact the biggest of these rule changes was to nullify Steeler cornerback Mel Blount. Standing 6’3 and weighing in upwards of 200 lbs. he would manhandle receivers as they tried to run their patterns downfield. This new rule only allowed cornerbacks to only chuck a receiver under 5 yards. From there the receiver could run free untouched where in prior years a receiver could get hit by linebackers or safeties as well if the ball hadn’t been thrown. It’s actually referred to as the “Mel Blount Rule”. Another allowed offensive linemen to extend their arms while pass blocking to nullify Pittsburgh’s pass rush.

The Steelers dominance ended after their 1979 championship. The team had aged yet sent linebackers Lambert and Ham to the Hall of Fame along with two time NFL defensive player of the year Joe Greene. Was this the greatest ever defense?? Were they better than the 1985 Chicago Bears?? The 2000 Baltimore Ravens?? The 1969 Minnesota Vikings?? The 1968 Baltimore Colts?? Lets hear from you…

…and by the way, just to stick it to the rules makers who changed the game on them. The Steelers set the record for a 16 game season with only 195 points given up.

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