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Adapt and overcome: Steelers march on without Smith

The triceps injury that Aaron Smith suffered in the Steelers' 23-22 win against the Dolphins may not just end his season.

It could also signal the end of an era for the player that may be the standard for 3-4 defensive ends.

Smith is 34, and he has had three major injuries in the last four years.

Juxtapose that with Smith not missing a game from 2000-05, and it suggests that his body is breaking down after more than a decade of mixing it up with 300-pound offensive linemen -- and usually more than one of them at a time, as Smith is frequently double-teamed.

Perhaps that is why outside linebacker James Harrison said of Smith's latest injury, "It's got to be heartbreaking for him."

It could be for the Steelers too.

The Steelers (5-1) will only go as far as their defense takes them. And what makes the loss of Smith potentially devastating is that the Steelers are a different defense without the 13th-year veteran.

In the 11 games Smith missed last season with a rotator cuff injury, the Steelers yielded 98.4 rushing yards per game. With the 6-foot-5, 298-pounder, the Steelers gave up just an average of 71 rushing yards to opponents.

The drop off in 2007 when Smith suffered a season-ending biceps injury was even more severe. In the 13 games that he played, the Steelers held opponents to 72.6 rushing yards a game. That number spiked to 157.3 in the four games that Smith was out.

There were other factors as to why the Steelers weren't nearly as good against the run after losing Smith in 2009 and 2007. But what is relevant as the Steelers move forward is that they cobble together a rotation that can do a credible job at left defensive end.

That means Ziggy Hood, a protege of Smith, shows why the Steelers made him a first-round draft pick in 2009.

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