AFC North: Clinton Portis

Big win hurts so good for Steelers

November, 4, 2008
 James Lang/US Presswire
 Ben Roethlisberger rushed for a touchdown in Pittsburgh's 23-6 victory over Washington, then left with a shoulder injury.

Posted by's James Walker

LANDOVER, Md. -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood in a tunnel in FedEx Field laughing and talking to a small group of people on Monday night.

There was no sling on his injured right shoulder, and no grimace on his face after suffering an ailment that kept him out of half of Monday's game.

Even through aches and pains, big victories can serve as the perfect elixir.

Roethlisberger was knocked out of the game, but Pittsburgh still pulled off a convincing 23-6 road victory over the Washington Redskins for its most significant statement game of the season. Although there were no definitive answers on Roethlisberger's injury -- he didn't talk to the media following the game -- there was a sense from the Steelers that it wasn't serious.

"I'll have more information for you guys tomorrow," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "Potentially he was capable of going back into the game. But we went down the field with [Byron] Leftwich in the second half."

Although Roethlisberger's situation didn't appear serious, it still leaves the question of whether he will miss time, even if it's just for one game. Still, that shouldn't overshadow Pittsburgh taking its biggest win of the season.

Here is what else we learned from Pittsburgh's win:

Byron Leftwich is ready, if needed
The Steelers have survived injuries to key players all season. But their biggest fear was having to do without their starting quarterback.

Leftwich eased some of those fears Monday with a solid second-half performance. His first completion was a 50-yard bomb to receiver Nate Washington to open the second half and set up a touchdown. He finished with 129 yards, a touchdown and a 145.8 passer rating just miles away from his hometown of Washington, D.C.

"That wasn't a difficult situation for me to go out there, and get in the huddle and be on the football field," Leftwich said. "The difficult situation for me is being on the sideline. I've been playing football too long to ever get nervous on the football field."

Pittsburgh's 6-2 record also could convince the team to rest Roethlisberger. If it's a borderline injury, the team's record, combined with Leftwich's performance, could factor in Pittsburgh's decision-making.

Parker and Holmes make a big difference
This is the first time in more than a month that Pittsburgh has played with both starting tailback Willie Parker and receiver Santonio Holmes in the lineup. The added threats make a difference.

In a defensive struggle, Parker rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown. He had several shifty runs and took several hard hits without suffering any setbacks to his knee.

"I definitely feel good, but I'm still not where I want to be or where I need to be," Parker said. "I've got to keep grinding."

Parker smiled when asked about having Holmes on the field. The receiver was suspended for the Week 8 game against the New York Giants, but returned against Washington to have three catches for 30 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to seal the game. The Steelers improved to 3-1 this year when both Parker and Holmes are starting.

"This team can be great," Parker said. "We call each other 'Prime Time.' I'm 'Prime' and he's 'Time.' So we always look to each other, and when we're both in the lineup we can go a long ways."

Steelers' defense is unrelenting
Pittsburgh's top-rated defense has bullied teams for most of this season. But its lopsided performance against a Redskins team with Clinton Portis, the league's leading rusher, and quarterback Jason Campbell was perhaps its most impressive.

Washington (6-3) scored the first six points of the game but went scoreless for the final three-plus quarters.

Portis was held to 51 yards on 13 carries (a 3.9-yard average). Campbell threw his first two interceptions of the season and was sacked seven times. By the end of the game, the Steelers proved to be the first team that was able to rattle Campbell.

"When you start bringing pressure and you're hitting that quarterback, you definitely don't want to hold onto the ball that long," Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley (two sacks) said. "Once we started getting back there a little bit, he gave us the ball."

Playing from behind in the second half, Washington became one-dimensional. Campbell (208 passing yards) was forced to throw 43 times. That played right into the Steelers' hands as six different players sacked Campbell.

"It's fun when we know what a team has to do," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "That's when we let the dogs loose."

Steelers LBs NFL's most dangerous unit

November, 2, 2008
 George Gojkovich/Getty Images
 Steelers second-year linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) already has 7.5 sacks. Teammate James Farrior leads the Steelers with 50 tackles.

Posted by's James Walker

Their ages range from 24 to 33.

They were pieced together via free agency and through the draft.

Yet, despite their varying paths to the NFL, they have become the league's most cohesive and dangerous unit.

They are the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting linebackers, who once again are wreaking havoc around the league. Outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison and inside linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote combine to make up the foundation of the NFL's No. 1 defense, which is only allowing an average of 236 yards per game.

Woodley and Foote were drafted out of Michigan, albeit five years apart. Harrison, who attended Kent State, was a free agent in 2004 who finally had his breakout campaign last season, and Farrior signed with Pittsburgh in free agency in 2002.

Pittsburgh's fearsome foursome have combined for 19 of the team's 25 sacks, which is the second-highest total in the league. The Steelers finished last season as the NFL's top defense and so far are on pace to repeat that feat.

Meet the Steelers linebackers

James Harrison

Age: 30
College: Kent State
Signed: UFA, 2004
Stats: 40 tackles, 8.5 sacks

James Farrior

Age: 33
College: Virginia
Signed: UFA Jets, 2002
Stats: 50 tackles, 1.5 sacks

LaMarr Woodley

Age: 24 (Monday)
College: Michigan
Signed: 2nd round, 2007 draft
Stats: 32 tackles, 7.5 sacks

Larry Foote

Age: 28
College: Michigan
Signed: 4th round, 2002 draft
Stats: 28 tackles, 1.5 sacks

"We bring a whole [different] attitude to the game," Woodley said recently. "We want to stay the No. 1 defense. When you get in the No. 1 spot, you want to stay in the No. 1 spot, and if we do what we do week in and week out, it doesn't matter who is across from us."

The fire that burns amongst Pittsburgh's linebacker corps starts from within.

First, they have a strong tradition of great Steelers linebacking to uphold. Second, there is a healthy rivalry internally this season that is driving each player. When one linebacker makes a big stop, he makes sure to let his other teammates know about it. The same rule applies for sacks.

That has especially been the case with Harrison (8.5 sacks) and Woodley (7.5 sacks), who often brag to each other about getting to the quarterback first. They are third and fourth in the NFL in sacks, respectively, and both have a chance to win the NFL's sack title by season's end.

Farrior, meanwhile, leads the Steelers (5-2) in tackles with 50 and has a pair of sacks. Foote also has two sacks to go with his 28 tackles.

"We think the best competition is in our own backyard," said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin of his defense this season.

The 3-4 defense does not work without stud linebackers playing on the same page. Other teams such as the Cleveland Browns have struggled with this difficult scheme for several seasons and have been unable to duplicate Pittsburgh's success.

The keys are physicality and discipline, which are two things Pittsburgh longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau stresses. The Steelers are very technically sound in rushing the passer and staying in their gaps to prevent big plays in the running game.

"When you look at Dick LeBeau, he is a perfectionist," said Keith Kidd of Scouts Inc. "He is an outstanding teacher and schemer, and he understands the system and knows what types of players fit in that system."

On ESPN's "Monday Night Football" (8:30 ET), the Steelers will face off with Washington Redskins (6-2) tailback Clinton Portis. He leads the NFL in rushing with 944 yards through eight games. Pittsburgh -- whose two losses this season have come to the NFC East's Eagles and Giants -- is allowing just 71.6 yards rushing per game and has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.

No one has been able to stuff Portis this year, and his production will be key in determining the outcome of this game. If Washington fails to get its running game started and resorts to passing 30-plus times with Jason Campbell, that should allow the Steelers to bring their different pressures and rattle the fourth-year quarterback,
who has yet to toss an interception this season.

"This is a dynamic defense, and when you play Pittsburgh you are going to get hit right in the mouth," Kidd said. "Now how you respond to that is how you can either win the game or not."

Scouts Inc. on...Portis vs. Pittsburgh

October, 30, 2008

Posted by's James Walker

 Geoff Burke/US Presswire
 Clinton Portis has his work cut out for him Monday against Pittsburgh.

In this week's visit to the film room, we check in with Scouts Inc. to break down Monday's intriguing matchup between Washington Redskins tailback and NFL leading rusher Clinton Portis and the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-ranked defense.

Here is comprehensive film analysis from Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd:

"This should be a great matchup between Clinton Portis and the Steelers' front seven that is allowing only 71.6 yards per game. Outside of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Portis has been unbelievable this season and is on pace for an MVP year. He is running with a lot of confidence, excellent vision and speed as a one-cut downhill runner in the Redskins' power-zone running schemes. He is very dangerous as a cutback runner, which will place a lot of pressure on the Steelers' gap control and discipline within their system. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will attempt to force quarterback Jason Campbell to attack through the air by shutting down the Redskins' running game with his multiple 3-4 attacking schemes. The Steelers linebacker core is extremely talented led left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and right outside linebacker James Harrison, who do a great job of setting the outside edges. And don't forget about strong safety Troy Polamalu who continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, too, especially against the run. In the end, I am going with the Steelers' front seven in this matchup because Portis is banged up, and he's going against a very physical Steelers defense that excels against the run."