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Steelers take advantage of week off during season

| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007

Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith enjoys having a scheduled week off during the regular season.

On the other hand, he isn't so sure.

"I am a fan and I'm not a fan,'' said Smith, who leads Steelers defensive linemen with 16 solo tackles this season. "I'm a fan when I get the time with my family. But I'm not a fan to be away. You want to stay consistent.''

Smith and the Steelers visit the Denver Broncos at 8:15 p.m. tonight at Invesco Field at Mile High following their scheduled bye week. Denver was also idle last weekend, meaning that both teams will be playing their first game in two weeks.

From a physical outlook, the bye week is a much-needed respite from the grueling 16-game regular-season schedule.

Injuries and assorted bumps and bruises take their toll on players, who learn to play hurt and look forward to the opportunity to rest their bodies for a few days during the season.

From a mental outlook, however, the bye week has the potential to take the edge off players who have grown accustomed to a certain routine of practicing and playing week in and week out.

The Steelers have won four of their last six games following bye weeks.

Over the last decade, they are 5-5 in games following a bye week.

"One thing I learned in this business; sometimes, it's good to just keep playing,'' fullback Dan Kreider said. "Sometimes, when you have that week where you let down a little bit, that's not always the best for down the road.''

Last season, the Steelers' bye week followed their third game, a 28-20 home loss against Cincinnati.

Two weeks later, the Steelers lost, 23-13, at San Diego.

This year's bye week followed the Steelers' fifth game, a 21-0 home win against Seattle.

Like a year ago, the Steelers are making a long road trip after the week off.

Looking to guard against a potential letdown, first-year coach Mike Tomlin called for practices in pads the first three days of the bye week, a departure from former coach Bill Cowher, whose players didn't practice in pads during the break.

Tomlin cut the final practice of the week short. However, the first three practices sent a message to his players that this was anything but a vacation.

"It gives us the opportunity to take a step back and analyze in great detail some of the things we have done to this point and what we need to do to improve. That has been the focus more than anything,'' Tomlin said.

"We don't control the schedule. When they schedule us to play, we'll show up and play and we better be prepared. Everybody deals with it. It is not something that is unique in any way. Everybody gets a bye week. When you come off a bye week, you better play football.''

Left tackle Marvel Smith welcomed the bye week.

The down time gave him the opportunity to recover from a minor-knee injury that caused him to miss a few plays against Seattle. It also provided him with some much-needed rest.

"To me, that's exactly what a bye week is for,'' he said. "Rest up, get your mind right, get your body right, come back ready to work.

"I took full advantage of the bye week.''

To a man, the Steelers said the best thing about this year's bye week is that it allowed several key players to recover from injuries.

Wide receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, offensively, and nose tackle Casey Hampton, strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Bryant McFadden, defensively, all had injuries that caused them to miss the Seattle game.

Those players improved physically during the bye week.

Only McFadden, still suffering from a high ankle sprain, is likely to miss tonight's contest.

"Some people needed some rest to get their bodies right," Marvel Smith said. "It definitely came at the perfect time for that."

Kreider agreed

"That extra week off should give them extra time to get healthy,'' he said.

Kreider also said the Steelers should benefit mentally from the bye week.

"Hopefully, guys will be committed to this week of work and get themselves focused more than anything," he said. "Mentally, just come out and be ready to play. We won't know for sure until Sunday how Sunday turns out. Going on the road, especially against a team that came off a loss before their bye week. They're going to be fired up.''

Marvel Smith promises that the Steelers, winners of four of their first five games, will be just as fired up for 2-3 Denver.

"I don't think it's going to be a factor at all,'' he said. "We've been in the routine for so long. Just because you didn't do it for one week, it should be easy to get right back into that same routine.''

Aaron Smith said the benefits of the bye week outweigh the bad.

"It's not like we didn't do anything at all during bye week,'' he said. "It can work both ways. I think it's good we didn't sit around for seven days and didn't do anything. But I think it's good we got the rest."

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