Game Day Notebook

Jim Wexell reports on Steelers run defense, LeBeau, Hall of Fame, and a gunner deluxe.

Dick LeBeau hasn't prepared for an option attack since his playing days, but his Steelers defense shouldn't have much trouble stopping the option today in Denver, even if the Broncos are leading the NFL in rushing.

The Steelers have rounded back into form against the run after opening with atrocious numbers.

Through the first six games the Steelers were allowing 4.6 yards per rush and 113 yards per game, almost double what they allowed per game last season.

Over the last 10 games, though, the defense has allowed a more Steelers-like 3.7 yards per carry and 92 yards per game.

How was the problem rectified?

"I think we're getting better play out of our young guys up front," said middle linebacker James Farrior. "I think they were thrust into a role that they weren't ready for or used to, and I think they finally got it down. They bought into it and they've been playing a lot better."

"It takes time," said rookie Cameron Heyward. "The more reps we got the more comfortable we felt."

"We as the young guys didn't want to be the reason for the drop off," said Steve McLendon. "That's the reason we started stepping up and standing up to the occasion. We're playing better. We're doing more work now."

Aaron Smith included Ziggy Hood with those young lions.

"He's going to be a great player," Smith said of Hood. "That whole young group's going to be fantastic. You watch that group: They're going to be great. Heyward's going to be a great player, too. Once all of us old guys are gone they won't miss a beat. They might even be improved, to be honest with you."

POET LeLAUREATE

Smith said he isn't ready to make a decision about his future. Neither is Chris Hoke. But in a single-elimination tournament, the nucleus of 18 players who were on some part of the roster for all three Super Bowls can take a massive cut at any time.

LeBeau was asked if that backdrop provides a greater sense of urgency this postseason.

"I leave that to the poets and the philosophers," LeBeau said. "I am just going to coach the guys that we've got, and we are grateful for the guys that we have. We have a nice mix of young and old, and nothing lasts forever. Not coaches, not players. I think the league will last for awhile, but probably not forever. So we don't talk about it, we don't think about it. We go with what we got. The group does that, and that is one of the reasons we can handle adversity, and one of the reasons we can take a punch in the jaw and come back and play the next down."

HALL OF FAME FINALISTS

Speaking of poets, philosophers and taking one in the jaw, four of the 17 Hall of Fame finalists this year are Steelers: Jerome Bettis, Dermontti Dawson, Jack Butler and Kevin Greene.

On Feb. 4, the 44-member Hall of Fame Committee will meet to vote on the finalists. To become an inductee, a finalist must receive 80 percent of the vote.

Butler, a seniors candidate, has the best chance among the ex-Steelers of gaining induction this year. Bettis and Dawson have been finalists in the past.

REMEMBERING ELVIS

William Gay played at Louisville with current Denver defensive end Elvis Dumervil, and Gay remembers the day Dumervil destroyed the Cardinals' intra-state rival Kentucky.

"He sacked their quarterback six times," said Gay. "That was about one of the best games I've ever seen in my life."

Dumervil finished that 2005 season with 20 sacks and 11 forced fumbles, but wasn't drafted until the fourth round in 2006 because he measured only 5 feet 11 and 3/8 inches. But he's proven that height doesn't matter. Two years ago he set a Broncos record with 17 sacks in one season and in six seasons already has 52½ career sacks.

"What he's doing now is not a shock to me," Gay said. "He did that all the way through Louisville and they didn't respect it because they were saying, ‘Well he's in the Conference-USA. You're supposed to do that.' And he's a small, undersized D-end. Now that he's doing so well everyone's surprised, but I've seen what he can do so I'm all smiles when I hear people talking about him. I'm glad he's getting Pro Bowl looks and the respect he deserves."

HELLO, MR. SOUL

Anthony Madison just walked through the door, so it must be playoff season in Pittsburgh.

Madison, of course, is the on-again, off-again special-teams ace who has found his way onto the Steelers' roster at least once every year since 2006.

He played in five games for the Detroit Lions this season (Games 4-8), so he was still in shape when the Steelers lost rookie punt gunners Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen the last few weeks.

"My agent and the Steelers have always stayed in contact," said Madison. "They always said if someone got injured I'd be one of the top guys to call. They know what I can do and that's the great thing about it all."


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