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Woodley: Defense to blame for blowing leads

MIAMI -- The Steelers regularly started seven players on defense last season who were at least 30 years old. They lost five games that they led in the fourth quarter.

Fatigue could serve as a link between the two.

One thing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley dismissed, however, is the notion that the defense would have been fresher in the fourth quarter had the Steelers run the ball more in 2009. That would have kept the defense off the field for longer stretches.

"They did what they were supposed to do," Woodley said of the offense. "It was our fault for letting teams score in the fourth quarter. No one to blame but ourselves."

One statistic in particular may back up Woodley's assertion.

The Steelers held the ball, on average, 5 12 minutes longer than their opponents in 2009 -- despite throwing the ball 56 percent of the time.

The Steelers were in the bottom half of the NFL in rushing; their 112.1 yards per game ranked 19th out of 32 teams.

Inconsistency in the running game, team president Art Rooney II said, contributed to the Steelers going 9-7 and missing the playoffs.

"Some of our troubles holding leads this year can be traced to that," Rooney said recently.

What can't be disputed is that a robust running game can physically and mentally wear down an opposing team.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said it can also energize a defense because of the tone it sets.

"Does a good running game help the defense?" Lewis said. "Absolutely. If your (defense is) on the sidelines, you win."

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