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mesaSteeler
12-20-2009, 08:06 AM
Secondary a primary concern | Pack’s passing attack may cause problems
BY JIM WEXELL
Associated Press
http://www.tribune-democrat.com/prosports/local_story_354001159.html?keyword=topstory

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Clark either knows something the rest of us don’t know, or he’s made a miscalculation not seen in these parts since Anthony Smith incorrectly sized up the Pittsburgh Steelers’ chances in New England two years ago.

Clark ripped into the media and fans last week for their criticisms of the Steelers’ secondary, the unit he heads up as the free safety.

Whether the problems had been correctly identified or not, Clark should realize there are many problems in the Steelers’ secondary, and they are great.

The Steelers’ secondary, playing behind the league’s No. 2 pass rush, is largely responsible for the following fourth-quarter defensive statistics (courtesy of SteelersDepot.com):

n 27th passer rating

n 28th passing yards per attempt

n 30th first downs

n 31st passing yards

n 31st touchdown passes

And the Green Bay Packers’ ninth-ranked passing attack exceeds that of the Cleveland Browns (32nd), Oakland Raiders (31st), Baltimore Ravens (15th), Kansas City Chiefs (27th) and Cincinnati Bengals (23rd).

The 6-7 Steelers lost to those teams in their current five-game skid, while the 9-4 Packers come to Heinz Field on a five-game winning streak. They’re led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has the NFL’s fourth-best passer rating at 102.5.

The key to the Packers’ surge from the depths of 4-4, following a loss to Tampa Bay, has been an offensive line that’s been intact the past four games – its only such stretch all season.

In wins over the Chicago Bears, Ravens, Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, the Packers allowed only seven sacks, a noticeable improvement for a team that still leads the NFL with 48 sacks allowed.

The Steelers have 39 sacks this season, only two behind the league-leading Minnesota Vikings. So the return to health of left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher will help the Packers in what the stat sheet says should be a mismatch.

Rodgers, with help from his line, could turn that mismatch around by exploiting the Steelers’ secondary, which hasn’t faced as productive a receiving duo as Donald Driver (58-887-6) and Greg Jennings (56-855-3) since October. Second-year tight end Jermichael Finley (39-488-3) is another receiving threat. The Packers also have a 1,000-yard rusher in Ryan Grant and the league’s second-ranked defense.

The Steelers enter today’s 4:15 p.m. contest needing to sweep their remaining three games, while hoping for collapses from a half dozen teams that are either ahead or tied in the AFC wild-card race.

Most of the players aren’t even looking at the numbers.

“It’s about finishing strong,” said right tackle Willie Colon. “You work your butt off in the offseason, and maybe you don’t have a chance for the playoffs, but you don’t quit. We’ve got to be able to understand that. We’ve got to have pride, and we have to have fight.”

Does Colon believe the team quit in losses to the dreadful Browns and Raiders the past two weeks?

“I don’t think it’s an effort thing at all,” he said. “We’re not used to losing at all around here, and sometimes you try so hard to win you kind of lose focus on the basics and some of the fundamentals. I think that’s what it is. I don’t think anybody’s giving up. I think we’re playing a little uptight, to tell you the truth.”

Perhaps the Steelers will regain their underdog mentality today and turn the tables on the Packers, who only need to win one of their remaining three games to clinch a playoff berth. And perhaps Clark can turn the boos that are certain to greet him back into cheers by the end of the game.