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mesaSteeler
01-01-2012, 08:57 AM
Braced for the rush
Browns RB Peyton Hills vs. Steelers FS Ryan Clark
Sunday, January 01, 2012
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One year after having the third-best rush defense since the NFL went to a 16-game season, the Steelers are more concerned with players, not teams, running for more than 100 yards.

Last year, when they set a franchise record for fewest yards rushing per game (62.8), the Steelers allowed only two teams -- the Patriots and Jets -- to rush for more than 100 yards.

This year, they already have allowed three players -- Ray Rice of Baltimore, Arian Foster of Houston and Steven Jackson of St. Louis -- to rush for more than 100 yards against them.

And, based on the way he has looked the past two games, Browns running back Peyton Hillis looks like he has a good chance to be No. 4. That would be the most 100-yard rushers in a season since the Steelers allowed four in 2003.

Hillis had 99 yards in Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals and 112 in last week's 20-14 loss to the Ravens, looking like the player he was before his season derailed into a soap-opera mess.

"Last year, we were run-stopping aliens," safety Ryan Clark said. "That doesn't happen. That was a record. You can't really compare it to last year. But it has to get better."

Indeed, the Steelers rush defense looks nothing like the unit that dominated the NFL in 2010. Their per-game average of 101.7 yards is nearly 40 yards more than last season. And they have allowed seven runs of 20 yards or longer after allowing 11 in the previous three seasons combined, including an NFL-low one in 2010.

However, five of the seven runs of 20-plus yards came in the first four games. They have allowed only two since -- a 23-yarder against the Rams and a 29-yarder in the first meeting against the Browns.

"If every team runs the ball as well as the Rams did and scores zero points, I'll be happy to deal with that," said Clark, referring to the 27-0 shutout on Christmas Eve in which Jackson ran for 103 of his team's 164 rushing yards. "But we have to get better because we know we have to keep teams from play-action passing us. That's our priority. That's always coach [Dick] LeBeau's first goal."

Here is part of the problem: In a defense designed for the inside linebackers to make a lot of tackles, Clark, a free safety, leads the team with 96 tackles. Troy Polamalu, their strong safety, is second with 88. Since tackle stats started being kept in 1980, no safety has led the Steelers in tackles in a season.

But the tradeoff is that the Steelers rank No. 1 in the league against the pass, allowing 42 yards per game (172.2) less than they did in 2010 (214.1).

"You look at the first week [in Baltimore], they were able to get big gains, but we haven't given up a lot of those lately," Clark said. "We've been tackling pretty well in the secondary when they do pop one. But we have to do a better job of shoring up. The time to correct it is over. It has to be done now."

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12001/1200401-66.stm#ixzz1iDcnplWu