Sunday Notebook: Farrior Closing Gap

Sunday's Game Day Notebook includes gems about James Farrior, Maurkice Pouncey, Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler.

PITTSBURGH – At one point in the not too distant past, it appeared that Lawrence Timmons was well on his way to wresting the team's tackles lead from teammate James Farrior.

Farrior has led the team in tackles the last three years, and is closing the gap this year on Timmons.

By out-tackling Timmons 45-27 in the last four games, Farrior now trails Timmons by only 8 tackles (94-86), according to stats compiled by the Steelers' coaching staff.

"I take a lot of pride in leading this defense, one of the best defenses I've ever been on," said Farrior. "To have the opportunity to lead in tackles the last three years is definitely a great honor."

Counting playoff games, Farrior has made 1,520 tackles in his 15-year NFL career. Does one stand above the rest?

"None of them really stand out," he said. "As long as you get the guy on the ground it's a good tackle."

His coordinator, Dick LeBeau, didn't have a problem picking one out.

"In '04, when we went 15-1, he did something every week," said LeBeau. "Every week he'd either intercept a ball, recover a fumble, cause a fumble. We were playing Philadelphia at home and they had a great halfback, almost impossible to get with one guy in the open field. They threw a swing pass to him and James went over there and made a great play. I'll never forget that play. He's not only fast, but for his size that was as good a play as I've ever seen in the open field. I never will forget it."

Farrior's tackle of Brian Westbrook wasn't his only highlight of a 2004 season in which he was the runner-up NFL Defensive MVP.

"Well, he should've been MVP that season, no question about it, absolutely," LeBeau said. "We led the league in everything. We only lost one game. He lost it to the safety from Baltimore. We had a better record, we won the division. He was our MVP. He should've been for the league."

LeBeau was asked if Farrior is his quintessential captain.

"He's been our leading tackler many a season, rarely if ever misses a game. He's always positive on or off the field. Anybody would be blessed to have a captain like James Farrior," LeBeau said.

RAIDERS ROOKIE IN MIDDLE

One of the top matchups today will pit Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey against Raiders rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Both are first-round draft picks and both played against each other in games that sent the winner on to the national championship.

Pouncey and Florida beat McClain and Alabama two years ago, and the result was reversed last year.

"We're 1-1," said Pouncey. "He's a great player. You could see him out there in the game in college calling all the plays. He made everything happen for Alabama. That's why he got drafted so high. All hands up to him. He's a player I have to get ready to play."

McClain, the eighth overall pick last April, has started every game for the Raiders and is third on the team with 42 tackles.

"The guy can run real good, a real big guy; tall, too," Pouncey said.

"It ain't like he's a short, fast guy. He's got it all. He can play the run, pass, everything."

NICKEL BACK WATCH

After Steelers nickel back William Gay was beaten for three touchdowns last week by New England Patriots rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, a week after the Cincinnati Bengals repeatedly isolated on him with Terrell Owens, it's only natural for a reporter to poke around the locker room for replacement candidates.

Keenan Lewis, how are things?

"I'm just working hard, man," said the second-year cornerback.

How's your game coming?

"I'm just working hard, man."

Coming closer to getting any playing time?

"Man, I'm just working hard."

Crezdon Butler, a fifth-round rookie, was active for the first time last Sunday, but he only played on special teams.

"I did pretty good," he said. "But I got injured on a kickoff."

What are the coaches telling you?

"They're saying that I did pretty good."

Butler knows the Raiders' rookie slot man, Jacoby Ford, pretty well. The two were teammates at Clemson.

"Fast. Very fast," Butler said. "He won the 60-meter dash in college and was second in the 100 meters. He's really fast and they've got some other receivers who are really fast, too."

Why did the productive and lightning-quick Ford last until the fourth round last draft?

"I don't know about that," Butler said. "He's a great route runner. He's 5-8, and you really don't see many 5-8 receivers in the league. Other than that he's a great player."

Butler covered Ford every practice and "we made each other better." But don't expect Butler to get the chance to use his knowledge against Ford. Instead, look for Gay to handle a speedster who in his last game had 148 receiving yards and 306 all-purpose yards.

Expect another talk next week with Lewis and Butler.

QUOTABLE

Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers' poor play of late (53 points and 561 yards allowed in the last 5 quarters):

"I think the panic comes from the media and the fans. I mean we're 6-3; we're not 3-6. We put last week behind us and we're moving on. Our focus is on a very, very good Raiders team."


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