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Two Defenses From One

Cards' scheme born from Horton's time in Pittsburgh


Linebacker Paris Lenon and defensive coordinator Ray Horton have a discussion earlier this season.

Earlier this week, Cardinals defenders – which, for the Cards' offense, was running the Pittsburgh Steelers defense although it's also the Cards' defense too – came across a play or two that isn't in the Arizona defensive playbook.

"Hey, we don't run that," someone said to defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

"No we don't," came Horton's reply. "Not yet."

There will be one kind of defense being played Sunday from both the Steelers and the Cardinals, although the versions remain very different. Pittsburgh has run Dick LeBeau's system for more than a decade, perfecting it, finding all the right players and grooming replacements slowly to step in. Horton, who spent the last seven seasons as one of LeBeau's assistants in Pittsburgh, has had less than three months to do the same.

The intent might have been to have all the bells and whistles implemented to the defense by now, but Horton realized a few weeks ago less is necessary.

"There are some nuances to the defense and it takes time," Horton said. "You go back and look at a lot of the Pittsburgh players, the young guys just don't play because it takes a little time to learn it. (Defensive lineman) Ziggy Hood was forced into playing because they had nobody and he struggled. You struggle in this system until you understand it.

"I knew rookies don't play for you," Horton added. "They just don't. There is a learning curve. I think the (other) coaches would say it's been frustrating for me, because I'm like, 'Why can't we do this?' That's been the thing for me, because you want to hit the ground running."

The Steelers haven't been forcing turnovers like they have in the past, but Pittsburgh still has the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL (measured by yards surrendered) and the No. 1 pass defense. The Cardinals are 21st.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he spoke with LeBeau this week about what to expect from the Cardinals, and "it will be interesting to see how close it is." Horton said Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike Miller came to him asking for similar insight into what the Steelers have been doing.

LeBeau praised Horton's readiness to be a defensive coordinator when Horton was hired, and part of the reason Horton was a candidate was that coach Ken Whisenhunt – who was interested in LeBeau, whose own contract had expired in Pittsburgh after the 2010 season – was looking to install the aggressive form of the 3-4 scheme.

The Cardinals aren't there yet.

"They didn't have enough time (because of the lockout)," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Trying to put our complex defense in a short period of time, man, it takes guys five or six years to pick up all of that. You see splashes of it but you see a lot of man up, across the board, mano a mano, see if you guys can beat us."

Cardinals reserve defensive lineman Nick Eason, who had spent the previous four seasons in Pittsburgh, said he has done his best to play a teaching role to many of his defensive teammates. Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter, who starred for the Steelers and LeBeau the first part of his career, isn't surprised it is taking some time.

"That was no overnight process in Pittsburgh," Porter said. "It took time. They have been around each other for so long, and they have had success doing it. They know what it takes."

The Cardinals also need to add/find personnel. A big part of the Steelers' defensive success has been the dynamic play of their outside linebackers, whether it was Porter once upon a time to current players like James Harrison – who won't play Sunday because of eye socket surgery – and LaMarr Woodley.

Porter and another former Steeler, Clark Haggans, are nearing the end of their careers and young players like O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho aren't ready. Without that pressure element, it makes for some uneven results.

The Cardinals will take help like this week, where there is a little extra work within the scheme thanks to the opponent. There will be mirror-images on defense Sunday, albeit slightly skewed for now.

"At the end of the day (Coach Horton) is the decision maker in what he wants to put in and what he doesn't want to put in," safety Adrian Wilson said. "As a defense, I think we are where we need to be in order to install everything and run everything he wants to run.

"With him, he needs to feel comfortable. If we make mistakes, he's not going to run it. That's how he is."

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