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11-05-2006, 12:24 AM
The key matchup

By The Tribune-Review
Sunday, November 5, 2006


STEELERS OLB JOEY PORTER: The emotional leader of the Steelers' defense returned for last Sunday's game against the Raiders after missing a pair of games (hamstring) and produced two sacks, his first two since getting a pair in the regular season opener against Miami. Porter also collected his first interception since the Dolphins game (his Miami pick was returned for six) and was credited with five tackles overall as part of a defense that helped the Raiders to 98 total yards. At times there's been more than meets the eye to Porter's game this season. His stats were adjusted from one assisted tackle to one solo and four assists for five total stops on Sept. 24 against Cincinnati, and from two solos to two solos and three assists for five overall stops against Oakland after a coaches' review of the game tape.

BRONCOS OT ERIK PEARS: Pears (6-foot-8, 305 pounds) joined the Broncos as a rookie-free agent out of Colorado State and spent 2005 on the practice squad. His experience this season was limited to special teams until starting left offensive tackle Matt Lepsis was lost for the season (knee) in the second quarter on Oct. 22 at Cleveland. Pears joined an offensive line that helped Tatum Bell rush for 115 yards against the Browns and Mike Bell collect 136 of Denver's 227 rushing yards last Sunday against Indianapolis. Pears will make his second NFL start against the Steelers.

THE MATCHUP: Porter had three solo tackles, four total stops, a sack and a forced fumble while opposing Lepsis in last season's AFC Championship Game. Those numbers should pale in comparison to what Porter ought to be able to accomplish against Pears, who doesn't have the experience to handle a player of Porter's pedigree and explosiveness. And if Porter helps shut down Denver's vaunted running game and continually crashes his way into the backfield, quarterback Jake "The Snake" Plummer will become that much closer to morphing into Jake "The Mistake" once again. EDGE: STEELERS

LAST WEEK: The Steelers' defense overwhelmed inexperienced Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter as anticipated, but it forgot to score (the Oakland defense scored twice in a 20-13 win). EDGE: RAIDERS