Rookie safety in line for dime
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Outside linebacker isn't the only position where injuries will force changes in the Steelers' lineup.
An injury to starting cornerback Deshea Townsend, coupled with the season-ending loss of Ricardo Colclough, could do more than force Bryant McFadden to start at right cornerback against the Kansas City Chiefs.
It could probably mean more playing time for rookie safety Anthony Smith, the team's second pick in the NFL draft.
Smith, a rookie from Syracuse, likely will be the sixth defensive back on the field when the Steelers use their dime defense against the Chiefs.
"I'm excited," Smith said. "I've been waiting my turn and waiting for things to happen. If I get my opportunity, I'm pretty sure the coaches will be pleased with what they see."
The Steelers usually use three safeties (Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Tyrone Carter) and three cornerbacks (Townsend, McFadden, Ike Taylor) in their dime defense. But, if Townsend (hamstring/questionable) cannot play, and with Colclough on injured reserve, the Steelers probably will use Smith rather than rookie cornerback Anthony Madison as the sixth defensive back.
Townsend, who was injured in practice Wednesday, did not practice yesterday. He's usually in the slot when the Steelers use their nickel and dime packages, a position that could be manned by McFadden or Polamalu.
McFadden, a No. 2 pick in 2005, will make his second NFL start if Townsend cannot play. He started last year in the Dec. 4 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field when the Steelers opened with their nickel defense. This would be his first start as the regular right cornerback in the base defense.
"The most important thing is just try to stay positive and stay focused because you never know when the situation comes when your number is going to be called," McFadden said. "I kind of went through the same thing last year when I was inactive the first couple games and an injury occurred [to Townsend] before the Jacksonville game and I needed to play."
In addition to linebacker Joey Porter, return man Willie Reid (foot sprain) also has been ruled out for the Chiefs' game. But, defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) returned to practice and was upgraded from questionable to probable.
With Reid out, coach Bill Cowher said running back Najeh Davenport will return kickoffs with Santonio Holmes.
Guard Kendall Simmons (foot) missed practice for the second day in a row and remains probable. Simmons received the equivalent of freezer burn -- or frostbite -- on his left foot when he fell asleep wearing a cooling device to treat a heel injury.
Chiefs wide receiver/returner Dante Hall (hip) has been downgraded from probable to questionable.
Too long on the field:
The Steelers have already allowed four scoring drives of 80 yards or longer in four games, including 85 and 91 yards against the San Diego Chargers.
Last year, the Steelers allowed only three scoring drives 80 yards or longer in the regular season, and one of those was an 80-yard touchdown catch by Marvin Harrison on the first play from scrimmage in the Nov. 28 loss in Indianapolis.
"It kills you," said inside linebacker James Farrior. "It kills your whole momentum, it kills your confidence. We pride ourselves in not enabling a team to drive the ball all the way down the field on us. That's one of the things we do best. It usually doesn't happen, but it happened a couple times Sunday night, so we're disappointed about that."
The Chargers used 13 plays to go 85 yards and 14 plays to move 91 yards for touchdowns in their 23-13 victory. They also had two drives that lasted 11 plays each in the second half. Because of their ball control, the Chargers ran more than twice as many plays as the Steelers in the second half, 41-18.
"That hurts your offense," Farrior said. "They didn't get a chance in the second half to establish too much of anything because we couldn't get off the field. When it hurts in one area, it affects the whole team, and that's a prime example."