By Scott M. Johnson
KIRKLAND – With Sunday’s game against 2-5 Pittsburgh comes an angry team, an experienced coach and an offense that is ready to explode.
But all of those are fine with the Seattle Seahawks, who face similar hurdles on a weekly basis.
The thing about this game that has Seattle concerned is the unfamiliar element: the 3-4 defense.
The alignment, which features three defensive linemen and four linebackers, isn’t nearly as popular as it was just a few years ago. Now Pittsburgh is one of only five teams that use the 3-4 as a primary defense. Atlanta is the lone NFC team that features the alignment, with the Steelers, New England, Baltimore and Houston also lining up in a 3-4 scheme.
“Teams have gone back and forth, but we have never deviated since I have been here,” said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who is in his 12th season. “It has always been a case that we have been able to play it because it fits the personnel that we have had.”
Other than an occasional wrinkle by opponents here and there, this game marks the first time Seattle will see the 3-4 defense all season. It presents a number of challenges for an offense that is used to lining up against four defensive linemen.
“Different blocking lanes, different assignments, different techniques. Everything,” center Robbie Tobeck said. “We face the same way when we line up, but that’s about it.”
The main adjustment is that only one defensive tackle is on the field, with his position lined up over Tobeck. The four linebackers allow defenses to disguise blitzes or leave more players in coverage.
“We put a lot of speed on the field,” linebacker Joey Porter said. “One of the things I think we do well is getting after the quarterback, put pressure on people, stuff like that. Do things that the 3-4 compliments.”
Offensive players have had to focus a little harder in meetings this week to prepare for a different look.
“I think we’re ready to go,” Tobeck said. “We change stuff every week. Our guys are smart, and we’ll make some adjustments.”
Shuffle begins: If Wednesday’s practice was any indication, the odd men out in Seattle’s defensive-line shuffle could be John Randle and Antonio Cochran.
Both starters in each of the first seven games, Randle and Cochran worked with the No. 2 units Wednesday.
Randle was just fine with the switch, which would limit him to pass-rushing plays.
“With me being 35 (years old), it gives me a chance to relax,” he said, “and it gives the team a chance to get some fresh legs in there.”
The adjustment left Seattle with an interior of Norman Hand and Cedric Woodard, who weigh a combined 632 pounds, to help stop the run.
Brandon Mitchell was working at left end with the No. 1 defensive line, while Cochran moved over to the right side behind Chike Okeafor.
Seeing extensive time at left end was Lamar King, who is eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list in time to make his season debut against Pittsburgh. A knee injury and subsequent surgery cost King the past 11 games, dating back to last season.
“I feel real good,” King said Wednesday. “This is the best I’ve felt so far this year, and I just look forward to going out and trying to get a victory.”
Happy to be here: Maybe a 2-5 start would be enough to temper the spirits of most NFL players, but at least one member of the Steelers refuses to feel sorry for himself.
Linebacker Joey Porter is just happy to still be playing football.
NFL fans will remember Porter as the player who was shot outside a Denver bar one week before the season opener. Fortunately, the bullet hit Porter in the buttocks and did no major damage.
He had the bullet removed and missed only two games.
“Anything can happen any day, any moment of your life,” he said Wednesday during a conference call with Seattle media. “So when you get in a situation like that and it happens to you, when it finally hits home, it just makes you love and value your life a little bit more. Because you do kind of take things for granted.”
Quick slants: Two Seattle starters were sidelined by injuries Wednesday, but indications are that they could play Sunday. Wide receiver Koren Robinson (hip) and linebacker Chad Brown (foot) are listed as questionable for the game. … Linebacker Anthony Simmons had an excused absence from practice and is expected to play Sunday. … Offensive lineman Floyd Womack returned to practice after missing six weeks with turf toe. … Former head coach Chuck Knox was in town Wednesday night to attend the opening of Fox Sports Grill in downtown Seattle. Knox lives in Palm Springs, Calif.