Bill Nelsen, a successful playoff quarterback who now coaches the position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is not apprehensive about the prospect of facing seven defensive backs Sunday in the NFC championship game against the Los Angeles Rams.
George Perles, assistant head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has seen the Ram Deployment before and says he would "fight fire with fire" by using an increased number of receivers if the Steelers play Los Angeles in the Super Bowl.
Nelsen, who led the Cleveland Browns to NFL East Conference titles in 1968 and 1969, reacted to Coach Ray Malavasi's flushed-with-victory remarks that, "I'm not worried about our defense handling Tampa Bay, but we've got to put some points on the board."
"He knows he's got to play against our No. 1 (in the entire league) defense," Nelsen said.
Before the Rams played in Tampa on Sept. 23, Malavasi said, "There is nothing about Tampa Bay that we fear." The Buccaneers won, 21-6.
"I heard George Allen on TV with all that stuff on Sunday," Nelsen said. "No, the Rams did not use seven defensive backs against us, just a regular nickel defense on obvious passing downs. It (the seven-man version) shouldn't be basically any different.
"We'll have a package of passes as we would have for any nickel defense, until we see what the Rams do. We'll spend enough time on it and a lot of time with Doug Williams (the Buccaneer quarterback).
"We don't believe we'll line up in a shotgun formation (as Roger Staubach of the Cowboys did against the seven-back defense in a 21-19 loss Sunday). I don't foresee the Rams using seven backs against us, but if they do, we won't be surprised. The biggest thing will be blocking their big front four. No matter how the Rams line up, there's still 11 guys over there.
"A lot of teams prefer to use linebackers in the situation the Rams faced against the Cowboys, in case of a run. We'll treat the Rams' pass defense as we would any 'nickel.' We saw the Giants use six defensive backs against Dallas. Almost all teams use some variation of the nickel against the shotgun."
Perles, who is under consideration to become head coach of the Baltimore Colts because of his reputation as a defensive tactician, said of the Rams' surprise defensive formation against the Cowboys: "If you use something new a little bit, you may have high success because of the newness of it. If you try to make a living with it, you're going to get hurt. If you use it too often, it's no good.
"I agree with Tampa Bay -- the seven-back formation is only a mental problem. The Rams used it against us last year (in a 10-7 victory). Houston sometimes goes with six or seven defensive backs. We have six ourselves, but never seven.
"The reason is that we have different-type personnel. We never use linebackers inside. They are the strong-safety type, slightly built. Jack Ham could be a strong safety. Jack Lambert is lean and can do 40 yards in 4.65 or 4.7 seconds.If we had big, strong linebackers who couldn't cover backs going out for passes, we'd use more defensive backs.
"some teams have only six defensive backs; some of them have picked up free agents as reserves. Should we take out an All-Pro linebacker like Lambert to put in a seventh back like that?
"If an opponent is doubling wide receivers with, say, 2 1/2 defenders, you throw to your running backs. Double coverage hasn't bothered the Cowboys for years; it shouldn't have on Sunday.
"If it weren't for one bad play (when wide receiver Billy Waddy beat the Dallas nickel defense for the winning touchdown), we wouldn't have been talking about seven defensive backs today.
"If it hadn't been for a tipped ball (by linebacker Mike Hegman of the Cowboys to Waddy of the Rams), there would have been no score on the play. I was surprised there was no one in position to cover Waddy."
Perles said that if the Steelers faced the Rams' seven defensive backs, "We'd definitely run right at it with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. If we couldn't run because of the limitation of time, we'd fight fire with fire -- with as many good receivers as possible; five of them, with no set-backs.
"We'd treat the extra defensive backs as though they were linebackers, even though they were wearing different numbers, and pass short. The Rams would be covering our fast backs-turned wide receivers with reserve defensive backs instead of regular linebackers. We'd like that."