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Steelers D rallying around coordinator Dick LeBeau

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Steelers D rallying around coordinator Dick LeBeau

PITTSBURGH (AP) There's a look Dick LeBeau gets on his face when the Hall-of-Fame defensive coordinator sees a breakdown on film that Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton knows all too well.

It's not quite anger. Or frustration for that matter.

Nope, it's way worse than that.

``It's like when a dad gets disappointed with his kids,'' Hampton said. ``He's not mad. He just knows what we're capable of doing.''

And far too often during Pittsburgh's sluggish start, the kids were letting the old man down.

The Steelers (4-3) squandered second-half leads in all three of their losses, letting the likes Tennessee and Oakland - not exactly the 2007 New England Patriots - rally to victory. The front seven couldn't generate any pressure. The secondary couldn't cover anybody and critics woofed the unit featuring seven starters in their 30s was past its prime, its 75-year-old architect included.

``It's just like somebody talking about your pops,'' nose tackle Steve McLendon said. ``So you just want to go out there and show them that pops is a great guy and I guess that's what we've been doing.''

In two short weeks, a defense that struggled to get off the field has returned to its typically efficient self. Pittsburgh held Cincinnati to 185 total yards then drummed the Redskins and superstar-in-training Robert Griffin III in a surprisingly easy 27-12 win last Sunday.

Heading into this weekend's visit to the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants (6-2), the Steelers are second in the NFL in yards allowed and first against the pass.

What changed? Not LeBeau. Asked if he's suddenly gotten smarter since a 26-23 loss to Tennessee on Nov. 12 put the Steelers perilously close to falling off the pace in the cluttered AFC, the eternally self-deprecating coach just laughs.

``It's definitely not that,'' he said.

It's not Troy Polamalu either.

The backbone of the NFL's best defense over the last decade has been limited to just two games due to right calf injury. Linebacker James Harrison didn't play the first month while recovering from knee surgery and though he's been solid since his return, he's managed all of one sack.

Then again, Harrison is hardly alone. The Steelers have gotten to the quarterback just 12 times this season and have created only seven turnovers.

LeBeau stresses his players need to create more ``splash'' plays to help out the offense, but the Steelers have gotten by without them simply by eliminating mistakes and doing the little things LeBeau preaches, tackling and playing fast being chief among them.

The Redskins dropped 10 passes in the rain last week, some of them due to sloppy execution, others due to the approaching footsteps of a Pittsburgh defensive back.

It's what the Steelers have always done under LeBeau, who spent 14 years patrolling the secondary with the Detroit Lions, developing a reputation as one of the most physical and cerebral players in the game.

Forty years after retiring, he's still preaching the virtue of doing things the right way.

To LeBeau, that means being a teacher instead of a taskmaster. It's why he doesn't lose his temper when things go wrong, unless you count getting angry at yourself.

``I learned better when people didn't holler at me,'' LeBeau said.

LeBeau gets greater mileage out of a quiet pep talk and a quick pointer than a paint-peeling tirade.

``He's a Hall of Famer, coach and player,'' linebacker Larry Foote said. ``When he talks to you and he pats you on your back, it does a lot more coming from him and his pedigree than a normal coach would.''

And there is little normal about LeBeau. Two generations removed from the last time he suited up in a game, he remains vibrant. He's remarkably fit and insists it's the players that keep him young. He could easily pass for someone 15 years his junior.

If he's gotten predictable, as opponents suggested earlier this season, it's for pretty good reason. The Steelers have finished with the NFL's No. 1 defense four times since LeBeau returned for his second stint as the team's defensive coordinator in 2004 and never finished outside the top 10.

``We're not scared to let you know what we're doing,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``But when we execute it, you can't move the ball. When we execute it, it's hard to score. And I think that's what's happening.''

Having an offense that monopolizes the ball helps too. The Steelers are second in the NFL in time of possession, meaning the defense is only on the field about 25 minutes a game.

Defensive end Brett Keisel joked he's his best when he's sitting on the bench watching quarterback Ben Roethlisberger go to work, but Keisel and company are also doing a pretty good job of making their trips between the lines brief outings.

The Redskins looked helpless at times trying to figure things out, which Keisel attributes to a prototypical LeBeau approach. On film, LeBeau noticed opponents became so worried about chasing Griffin around they got away from what they do best.

So rather than trick up the defense, LeBeau - in a way - dumbed it down. While adding a wrinkle here or there, the Steelers mostly stayed in their base 3-4 or nickel packages and focused on execution, not exotic coverages.

``Coach LeBeau just stays the course,'' Clark said. ``It's about effort. It's about doing things a certain way. When you get that right, it doesn't matter what you call it.''

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NOTES: RBs Jonathan Dwyer (strained right quad) and Rashard Mendenhall (strained right Achilles) were limited in practice on Thursday. Dwyer expects to play on Sunday while Mendenhall - who has missed the last two weeks - is questionable ... Safety Ryan Clark practiced for the second straight and will play against the Giants. Clark left the Washington game in the third quarter with a concussion.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.