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Steelers' run defense turns corner

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton makes a tackle against the Bengals earlier this season.

Top 10 list

How top running backs have fared against the Steelers this season:

Rank/player vs. Steelers APG

6. Alfred Morris, Was. 59 88.1

8. Chris Johnson, Ten. 91 81.8

9. Jamaal Charles, KC — 79.2

10. LeSean McCoy, Phil. 53 77.9

Note: APG is average yards per game

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

The Steelers did some soul searching moments after Oakland's Darren McFadden gutted their defense with a 64-yard scoring run, which the Raiders parlayed into an improbable victory.

Casey Hampton, the venerable nose tackle, dared the Steelers' defensive front to shake itself from its doldrums. Defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel often were tied up in knots as they struggled to find their footing.

“I think guys weren't doing their jobs earlier,” Hampton said pointedly. “They were trying to do too much sometimes. Instead of doing their job, they were trying to do someone else's job, too.”

Finally, the Steelers are getting the job done against the run, vaulting to seventh in rush defense after limiting the Giants to 68 yards in a 24-20 win last weekend.

“The big run by McFadden skews the numbers,” free safety Ryan Clark said. “Denver got a few yards, but it was really early. It can look ugly when you have one bad outing.”

The Steelers are likely to be tested Monday night at Heinz Field when they face the Kansas City Chiefs' third-ranked ground game. The Chiefs' rushing attack is powered by running back Jamaal Charles, the AFC's fourth-leading rusher.

“They have a guy who sticks his foot in the ground and gets vertical,” nose tackle Steve McLendon said. “We faced (Tennessee's) Chris Johnson, but this guy is smaller, and he's very quick and fast and changes directions and reverses field.”

Charles, who missed last year's game against the Steelers because of injuries, isn't as physical as Johnson. Hampton, though, fears Charles' ability to stretch short gains into home runs.

“They do a good job of blocking, and Charles knows when to dip in and out,” Hood said. “He knows how to get to the edge. If not, he'll beat you on the inside.”

The Steelers' defensive front has controlled the line of scrimmage the past five games. As a result, the Steelers' rush defense surrendered 81.2 yards compared to 101 during a 1-2 start.

“The run defense has definitely picked up,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “We try to stay current with our defense. If we're having trouble in an area, we try to do things to maybe help them a little bit. If it's going great, we don't mess with it. We try to reinforce strengths and eliminate our errors.”

The Chiefs, losers of five straight, will try to right themselves against the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. If nothing else, the AFC West cellar dwellers will be prepared, considering they see a similar defense to the Steelers' 3-4 in practice.

“They see that (3-4 defense) from training camp. They see it every snap. They know the 3-4,” LeBeau said. “They know the pluses and the minuses and the plays to run.

“It certainly won't hurt them that their team plays a 3-4 defense.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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