Notebook: No complaints about cut-blocking

PITTSBURGH – When a team travels to Denver to play the Broncos, it knows it must deal with two things: thin air and cut-blocking offensive linemen.

The thin air can't hurt you; cut blockers can.

"They're good at it," said Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. "It's nothing illegal but it's something you have to defend."

The Broncos have taken cut-blocking to an art form. The line coach who taught them to take players out of backside pursuit by hitting them low has since moved on to the Atlanta Falcons. Alex Gibbs taught the Broncos his cut-blocking techniques from 1995 to 2003.

"Denver kind of kept the thing going," said Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton. "He's a good coach who teaches the right techniques, so you've got to kind of have good technique to do it."

The Falcons led the NFL in rushing this season and the Broncos finished second. Why don't more teams perfect the technique?

"It goes to personnel and schemes," said Steelers guard Alan Faneca. "We run counter blocking a little more than some teams do. It's a personal preference."

But cut blocks aren't something that's preferred by defensive linemen. The Steelers aren't complaining, though, even if it makes getting out of bed the next morning more difficult.

"It does, if you fall into the trap and start looking for it," von Oelhoffen said. "You react to which way they're going and you just run. When you start looking for it, you get injured."

Von Oelhoffen said the blocking technique doesn't work as well against "a 3-4 lateral two-gapping team." And the numbers back him up: The Broncos have played six 3-4 defenses this season and averaged 124 rushing yards in those games, opposed to 172 rushing yards against 4-3 defenses.

"It'll be up to the defensive line to stop the run, for sure," von Oelhoffen said. "But what they do is legal. As long as they get their head in front, it's up to us to defend it. It's part of the game. It has been for a long time."

AND THE THIN AIR?

Max Starks was asked if he's ever played at the altitude he'll play at Sunday in Denver.

"The highest I've ever been was Seven Springs," said the Steelers' second-year tackle.

Jerome Bettis will notice the thin air because of his asthma. He'll take his albuterol treatment during the middle of the week instead of just before the game.

Troy Polamalu played in Denver as a rookie and as a junior in college. He believes the effects of the mile-high air are overstated.

"I think there's a lot more put into it than what you really feel out there," he said. "I've done elevation training in the off-season as well. I really don't feel the difference. I don't think it's an issue at all."

Polamalu used to train in elevation chambers in California.

"They're supposed to acclimate you and increase your red blood cells and different things like that," he said.

Did it work?

"Not really."

PORTER GETS OFF

Joey Porter won't be fined for his comments following Sunday's game. He was told by Steelers coach Bill Cowher that the league won't come down on him for his harsh criticisms of the officiating at Indianapolis.

"It's old news," Porter said.

In other old news, Porter criticized the Colts last week because they weren't "a smashmouth team."

Is Denver a smashmouth team?

"Oh yeah they play aggressive," Porter said. "They play to run the ball, and they pass the ball and play physical on defense. They're a very, very good football team."

QUOTABLE

* Polamalu on the massive rug burn on his left forearm: "It was from the play Dallas Clark scored on. When they say you get burnt, that's what happens."

* Bettis on his fumble against the Colts: "The first 24 to 48 hours you think about it. But now I'm like a cornerback. I forgot all about it."

* Denver coach Mike Shanahan on why he turned down Cowher and became the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator in 1992: "Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Tom Rathman, John Taylor. It was a pretty good crew."

INJURY REPORT

Steelers who missed Wednesday's practice were LB James Harrison (doubtful/ankle), DE Travis Kirschke (probable/groin), CB Deshea Townsend (probable/knee) and von Oelhoffen (probable/knee). None of the Broncos missed practice.


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