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Steelers taking charge on defense

| Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008

The Steelers lead the NFL in run defense, pass defense and total defense, and they're also ranked No. 1 in several other categories.

"They might be every bit as good a defense as the two Super Bowl teams that we played against," said NFL.com's Gil Brandt, who was vice president of player personnel for Dallas when the Cowboys lost to the Steelers in Super Bowls X and XIII. "I think (defensive coordinator Dick) LeBeau should go to the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame for what he does."

Brandt said it's now more difficult to play defense than when the Steel Curtain dominated pro football. In 1977, the NFL legislated rule changes to open up the game, including taking away the head slap. The following year, offensive linemen were permitted to use their hands when blocking and defenses were prevented from making contact with receivers beyond 5 yards.

"The rule changes made it much, much harder to play defense," Brandt said.

• When starting cornerback Deshea Townsend was injured in the opener against Houston, Bryant McFadden replaced him. He remained in the lineup, even when Townsend returned to form, despite unofficial NFL protocol stating that starters aren't supposed to lose their job due to injury. The same thing could be happening again, this time involving McFadden, who will return tomorrow after missing six games with a broken forearm. Coach Mike Tomlin indicated Thursday that second-year cornerback William Gay will remain in the lineup, although he's expected to share time with McFadden.

"We haven't really discussed too much of that in depth, but I believe in my abilities and always have," McFadden said.

• Strong safety Troy Polamalu returned to practice Friday after missing the first two practices of the week because of a calf injury. Defensive end Brett Keisel (knee) and tackle Marvel Smith (back) are out for the Dallas game.

• Cowboys running back Marion Barber, who suffered a dislocated right toe against Seattle in the Thanksgiving Day game, will be a game time decision. NFL sack leader DeMarcus Ware, who returned to practice Thursday for the first time since hyper-extending his left knee against Seattle, will wear a knee brace against the Steelers.

• Dallas coach Wade Phillips said cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones likely will return kickoffs and punts in his first game back after missing six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

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