The Pittsburgh Steelers, second straight mighty defensive effort in playoff games has resulted in them becoming one of the highest-priced favorites in a Super Bowl since the Baltimore Colts were upset as 17-point choices by the New York Jets, 16-7, in 1969.
The Steelers are favored by 10 points over the Los Angeles Rams in the 14th Super Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 20, 6 p.m., in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas say the spread will go higher because the public (amateur gamblers) will bet on the Steelers.
In effect, the Steelers showcased defensive specialist George Perles as a viable candidate for a head coaching job in their playoff victories over Miami, 34-14, and Houston, 27-13. The Dolphins gained 25 yards rushing in 25 attempts and the Oilers 24 yards in 22 attempts.
Coach Chuck Noll of the Steelers gave Perles, assistant head coach, credit for Sunday's remarkable containment of Earl Campbell.
Campbell, the leading rusher in the National Football League for the last two seasons, was limited to 15 yards in 17 carries by a specially designed defense that was a tribute to his potential.
"We used an eight-man line on 11 of the 24 times the Oilers ran the ball," Perles said of the goal-line-type defense. "We have never done that against any other running back.We haven't had to."
The strategem did not attract the attention the Rams did when they used seven defensive backs to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs, but said, "We felt Campbell deserved the attention.
"Our guys played the defense with great emotion because they knew that if they stopped Campbell we had a great chance of winning."
Quarterback Dan Pastorini of the Oilers was quoted as saying the game official's decision that appeared to take a touchdown away from the Oilers ruined their chance of rallying for a victory if a 17-17 tie had resulted in that third quarter.
"If we get that touchdown," Pastorini said, "we can come out and run in our next possession instead of throwing, like we had to."
"Run?" Perles said by way of comment. "That was their problem. They were not forced to pass. Our goal line formation invited the pass. It was there for them, with so many of our defenders up close on runs. They could have gone for broke -- the bomb -- but they might have been vulnerable to interceptions."
Perles said the Oilers did not use seven backs on passing downs as the Rams did against Dallas, just five-back "prevent" defenses. "If they had, we would have run against them. We got some big third-down runs against their 'prevent.'"
Perles ridiculed the notion that the Steelers were on to plays when Campbell was going to run the ball.
"We don't rely on stealing signals. The other team might jam their signals. We're too good a team to rely on something like that."
Perles noted that it was the sixth time that the Steelers had faced Campbell, that they held him to 38 yards in the 34-5 conference championship victory over the Oilers last year, and that he has gained more than 100 yards against them only once.
"We look at our films and scout ourselves," Perles said. "Campbell is notorious for rounding off his runs with a cutback. We knew we had to have penetration to jam up his cutback lanes.
"On an obvious running down, we brought up an extra man or half-man (one who comes up to the line but drops off after the opposing quarterback begins his cadence). The Oilers would bring a wide receiver up close to their tight end and we fought fire with fire by putting our strong safety over that wide receiver."
Perles noted how pressure was put on quarterback Pastorini.In the second quarter a double safety blitz was called and Donnie Shell and J. T. Thomas hurried Pastorini, who was intercepted by defensive back Dwayne Woodruff.
"We thought it was the right time and it was safe enough," the coach said. In the third quarter, defensive tackle Joe Greene whacked Pastorini hard as he released the ball and on the next play defensive tackle Steve Furness flattened Pastorini with a shoulder-in-the-stomach jolt as he passed to Campbell.
Pastorini left the game for one play, and on the play before the controversial pass in the end zone, linebacker Dennis Winston crashed into the quarterback, on a blitz.
"Hits like those tally up by the fourth quarter," Perles said. "You don't forget them, at least until after the game."