Whom will Ben Roethlisberger seek out?
"Rodney Harrison," Roethlisberger said of the Patriots' No. 37. "He's a guy we have to locate and keep our eye on because he's going to give a lot of things away, hopefully."
Last January, Harrison baited Roethlisberger into throwing a pass to tight end Jerame Tuman that Harrison intercepted and returned 87 yards for a touchdown and a 24-3 Patriots lead.
Harrison and Polamalu are strong safeties, and one is influencing the other.
"I made a nice highlight tape of him last year," said Polamalu. "He's definitely a safety I watch. I saw every single one of the plays he played in last year and I took a lot from him."
Polamalu is 24 years old and getting better every day. Harrison is 33 and showed his age in the opener when Randy Moss juked him to the ground on a touchdown catch-and-run. Polamalu disagrees that Harrison is slowing down.
"Moss makes everybody look bad," Polamalu said. "(Harrison) runs around out there like a third or fourth-year player. By all means he doesn't look old, that's for sure."
One of Harrison's long-time antagonists agrees.
"He's still the 37 I know," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. "He may have lost a step or something but he'll still end your career if he gets a chance."
Harrison might still be one of the dirtiest players in the league, but he can't hurt what he can't catch.
"Yeah," Ward said. "But if he catches you he will end your career, trust me."
Steelers running back Duce Staley was upgraded to probable for today's game. Staley's return allowed the Steelers to release rookie runner Noah Herron and add rookie wide receiver Nate Washington to the active roster.
The Steelers also upgraded rookie cornerback Bryant McFadden to probable. McFadden injured his calf last week in practice, but said he's close to 100 percent.
"I practiced full speed this week and didn't miss a beat, breaking on the ball well," said the second-round draft pick. "Full speed is the most important thing; showing the coaches I have my explosiveness back to where it was at the beginning of two-a-days."
McFadden blew up a few plays as a punt gunner in preseason games, but hasn't been active in the regular season yet.
"I'm just waiting for them to call my number," he said. "That's basically all I can do – be patient and try to get better in practice. I'm thinking positively in every area of the situation."
Special-teams co-captain Sean Morey practiced Friday and expects to play today. The only Steeler not expected to play is running back Jerome Bettis (calf).
The Patriots have injury problems in their secondary. Five defensive backs are listed as questionable, but Duane Starks and former Steeler Chad Scott are expected to play. Randall Gay, Tyrone Poole and safety James Sanders are also questionable.
First-round pick Heath Miller said he "might have saw bits and pieces" of last January's semifinal between the Steelers and Patriots, but third-rounder Trai Essex was transfixed.
Exxex grew up a Steelers fan in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and hosted a game-day party on the Northwestern campus.
"But nobody was a die-hard like me," Essex said. "Nobody wore their black and gold like I did growing up."
Essex said he supported the failed fourth-and-1 call to Jerome Bettis early in the game, but could only force a nervous smile when asked about Bill Cowher's decision to kick a 19-yard field goal when down 14 points in the fourth quarter.
"I can't say much about it right now," Essex said.
Was he crushed by the final score?
"I was pretty upset," Essex said. "I thought it was the year they'd go to the Super Bowl. I was hoping and praying, not knowing I'd be a Steeler then. It was kind of heartbreaking. I didn't watch the Super Bowl. I boycotted it."
Essex figured that since it was his last year to be a fan, he didn't brush the loss off by saying "Get 'em next year."
"I just figured that whatever team drafts me will go to the Super Bowl," he said.
Steelers right guard Kendall Simmons on his responsibilities against the Patriots:
"I'm going to say front seven, period. I think they'll play a lot more four down against us. I don't think they'll be in 3-4 much. They do that [4-3] against teams that like to run the ball. They like to bring their big guys in to handle the offensive line and let their linebackers run around."
X'S & O'S
The average age of the Patriots' starters last week at Carolina was 27.2. The average age of the Steelers' starters last week was 27.2. No, it's not a typo. … The Patriots rank 30th in the NFL in covering punts and 26th in covering kickoffs. They had a punt and an extra point blocked in their opener. … The Patriots lead the NFL in allowing the lowest completion percentage (44.6). … Roethlisberger is 15-0 as a starter. Brady is 49-15. Ken Stabler holds the NFL record by winning 50 games in 62 starts. … The Patriots haven't lost back-to-back games in 35 weeks of regular-season action. The Steelers are second in the NFL with a 26-week streak. The record of 60 is held by San Francisco (1995-99). … The Patriots hold the NFL record with 18 consecutive regular-season wins. The Steelers have won 16 in a row.
QUICKY Q&A: DICK LEBEAU
Q: Could you explain your use of Troy Polamalu?
A: Polamalu's coach is a little ineffective so we need a guy who's real effective to counter that. So we're glad we got him. He does a great job and sometimes he makes his coach look pretty smart.
Q: How radical of a departure from last year is it?
A: We just expanded in a player who's in his third year instead of his second year, and last year was really his first year starting. We did quite a bit with him last year and we're doing a little bit more this year, but it's mostly what Troy does. It's not what we're doing; it's what Troy's doing.
Q: Is using a safety like that a growing trend in the league?
A: I don't know. They told me some time ago that Pittsburgh had guys named Lake and Woodson and they used to do stuff like that, so maybe some people may be crazy to try it, but sometimes it works.
Q: Is LeBeau -- I mean -- is Brady that great?
A: He's a helluva lot better than LeBeau, I'll tell you that.
Notebook: Dirty ol' Harrison rolls on
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