Preview: Playing with a degree of desperation

<b> PITTSBURGH - </b> Deshea Townsend played with Shaun Alexander the day he rushed for 291 yards against LSU as a freshman at Alabama. That's what the Steelers cornerback thought about this week as he watched tape of the Seattle Seahawks running back.

"He's not big he just has great balance - great balance and great speed, so that's what made him tough," said Townsend. "That's where it starts. They have a balanced offense as well, but if you can stop him that's half the battle."

Finally, a battle plan made for a run defense. The Steelers can stop the run, even when it doesn't look like they can. In defending Arlen Harris last week, the dime was responsible for two of his three touchdown runs. It didn't appear to be a good job, but the Steelers held Harris to 81 yards on 34 carries (2.4 average).

The Steelers' run defense is the one aspect of this 2-5 season that hasn't failed miserably. The Steelers rank sixth in the NFL in run defense. The league uses yards per game (90.6) as its measuring stick, but the Steelers are fifth in average yards per carry (3.3). In the last four games, the Steelers have allowed ball carriers only 2.8 yards per rush.

All the Steelers need now is to run the ball better, cover better, pressure better, block, throw, catch. You get it. It's a four-game losing streak, statistically akin to a 40-game losing streak in baseball.

What's the problem?

"I saw Marv Levy wrote on the Internet the other day that the Steelers are pressing," said defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "I don't know if we're pressing or not. I just know that we have to make those plays."

Those plays. Those small breaks that aren't happening.

"You have doubt in here like 'you know what man? We can't seem to catch a break. We're doing all of this and it's for naught,'" said Jerome Bettis. "You have a situation where your key guys have to encourage the rest of the group."

Is that the solution?

"At times like this you've got to lean on your veteran guys," Bettis said, "and you've got to lean on your playmakers, the guys that have gone out in this jersey and made plays for you because when there is that doubt, the thought that 'here we go again,' it's going to take those veteran guys, the guys who've been in the battle, been in the heat, been in situations similar to this, to get you out of it. It's very important that the leadership definitely steps up and key players step up." Whether it was the leaders or not, the Steelers enjoyed a spirited and enthusiastic week of practice. But they've been doing that and it hasn't transferred to the field. This afternoon, the Steelers visit the 5-2 Seahawks.

"I think that we have to play with a degree of desperation. There's no question," said coach Bill Cowher, who may have a change or two in mind once the game gets started. He hinted there's more up his sleeve than moving Oliver Ross back to right tackle. That's the only lineup change Cowher has made this week.

"They may be necessary during a game," Cowher said Tuesday.

If the Steelers can block Seahawks pass rushers such as Chad Brown, Anthony Simmons and Lamar King, who's coming back from a year-long knee injury, they may find success. Norman Hand has been a disappointment in the middle of the Seattle line, and the other tackle, John Randle, was pushed into playing the nickel role only this week. Former Tennessee middle linebacker Randall Godfrey is due back from an injury.

In the secondary, Seattle starts two rookies, and they've been outstanding. Cornerback Marcus Trufant was the 11th pick of the draft and free safety Ken Hamlin was the 10th pick of the second round. They're joined at cornerback by Shawn Springs and at safety by Reggie Tongue and Damien Robinson.

Ray Rhodes, Seattle's new defensive coordinator, has improved the unit's statistical ranking from 28th (365 avg. yards) to 12th (310.4) this season.

Offensively, Matt Hasselbeck directs Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense, and Hasselbeck is sixth in the NFL with a passer rating of 87.8. He's been sacked 26 times, the same number as Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox.

The Steelers will need to pressure Hasselbeck and control Alexander, who's 10th in the NFL with 583 yards (4.4 avg.), otherwise the losing streak reaches five games - or 51 games if you're counting in baseball years.


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