Steelers expect no defensive drop-off with Mundy

| Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012

Ryan Mundy started a routine this year in which he watches game film and visualizes himself playing in the situation that's he watching.

"You have to see yourself making plays," Mundy said. "You have to put yourself in that guy's shoes and ask yourself, 'What you would do in that situation?"

Those shoes Mundy will be filling Sunday when the Steelers travel to Denver for an AFC wild-card game will be those of Ryan Clark.

With Clark ruled out by Mike Tomlin earlier in the week because of an existing medical condition that could be aggravated by Denver's high altitude, Mundy will make the third start of his three-year career, and first as a free safety.

According to Clark, it couldn't come during a better situation.

Denver is first in the NFL in rushing; the Broncos average 164 yards per game. Since Tim Tebow took over at quarterback, Denver has averaged 38 runs per game and only 24 passes, making Mundy's run-stopping ability more valuable.

"They are going to try to run the ball, and those two guys (Mundy and Troy Polamalu) are the best two in-the-box run defenders," said Clark, who led the Steelers with 100 regular-season tackles. "Maybe in a way it turned out to be the perfect week for this to happen to us."

Mundy hasn't played with Polamalu much over his career, instead filling in for him on a number of occasions — including twice this year when Polamalu left games with concussion-like symptoms.

Mundy had five tackles against Jacksonville when Polamalu went out. He had nine stops along with his only career interception against Kansas City a few weeks later.

"We kind of groomed him," Polamalu said. "(Clark) has taught him everything he knows, as well as myself. Whenever I come out of the game or Ryan comes out of the game, he replaces us. I don't anticipate any drop-off in play."

There could be a different look to how Polamalu plays, but it won't be because Mundy is in the game in place of Clark.

Polamalu's freelance tendencies aren't expected to be a big part of the game plan; Denver likes to run the ball out of the spread option, where gap control is paramount.

"This is a week you need to be on all your keys and tendencies," Clark said. "A week that you have to do your assignment first."

However, if Polamalu wants to freelance at times, Mundy sees no complications.

"Troy is going to be Troy," Mundy said. "I have been watching Troy and Ryan play for four years now, so I picked up things on how they communicate and how they play. We are going to work on some things this week to see how we play together and communicate."

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