High Anxiety

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't lacking for confidence against the undefeated New England Patriots, particularly in the defensive secondary. Anthony Smith and Company are looking to attack.

PITTSBURGH – New England Patriots star safety Rodney Harrison said he never heard of Anthony Smith.

Mike Tomlin said that's the reason Smith spoke up in the first place.

"He's young and he's playing well and he wants everyone in the stadium to know who he is when he walks in there," Tomlin said before Thursday's practice.

Tomlin said he hadn't talked to Smith about his guarantee of a Steelers win over the 12-0 Patriots this Sunday. Tomlin said he doesn't believe that pre-game "trash talk" matters on the field, so he doesn't want to dwell on it. Still, the coach was upset over the matter.

"Irresponsible journalism," he called Wednesday's group interview of Smith.

While Tomlin wishes it never had happened, he's the first to say that a player's tape is his resume, and Tomlin knows Smith is putting together a good one.

Since moving into the starting lineup for the felled Ryan Clark six games ago, Smith has become the hammer in a secondary that's growing into the most physical in Pittsburgh since at least the Rod Woodson-Carnell Lake days, and possibly since the era of Glenn Edwards, Mel Blount and Donnie Shell.

"Seeing the consistency of the hits being delivered, I'd say that's a fair statement," said cornerback Bryant McFadden. "If you're looking from the start of the season till now, there are some crushing blows being delivered, all the way from the first game to right now. And it seems to get more exciting as time goes by. I know for me, seeing people get splattered out there, it brings a smile to my face. That's what we're here to do."

That's the emphasis this week when it comes to Patriots star receiver Randy Moss. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Ravens were purposely physical with Moss and he ended up with his worst two games of the season.

"Like most receivers, guys don't like a lot of contact coming their way, especially when they're not getting the ball," McFadden said. "It can be aggravating. It's almost like a mosquito that's floating around your face. You get tired of it, tired of it, and you're swatting it, swatting it. You know, most receivers are like that. The only one who's not like that is probably Hines, but he's on our team."

Hines Ward took the comment with a smile. The game's most physical receiver craves that kind of respect.

"I feed off that," Ward said. "I'm a little screwy up in the brain I guess. I just take a different mentality: I expect to get hit. There are guys that want to knock the smile off my face so bad, but when I catch it, after they hit me, I still get up smiling."

And Ward's opinion of the Steelers' defensive backs?

"They want to see me on another team so they can come out and hit me," he said with a laugh. "They really want to hit me in practice. We've got some hitters on this team: Anthony Smith, Troy (Polamalu), Ike, T.C. Those guys live and die for hitting somebody. I'm glad to have them on my team."

Smith and safety Tyrone Carter had the Cincinnati receivers looking over their shoulder last week. Ike Taylor and McFadden are big-hitting cornerbacks while Deshea Townsend is a smaller cover corner who just might be the best form tackler of the bunch. Until Smith became the focal point of the game by agreeing to a reporter's question, Moss remains the focal point in the Steelers' film room, as he was for the Eagles and Ravens the last two weeks. Carter was asked if the Steelers' secondary can match the physical example set by the Eagles and Ravens.

"As a secondary? Can WE be more physical than Baltimore? What? Are you talking about Baltimore? Can OUR secondary be more physical than Baltimore's?" Carter asked as he grew more upset with each word.

"Look man, I think our secondary IS physical and I think we're more physical than Baltimore on the back end. The Eagles were physical. They've got (Brian) Dawkins back there and (J.R.) Reed. They were pretty physical. They laid some hits on Moss in that game as well. But our guys, we're always physical, man. Since Day One we've been physical."

Carter confirmed what Smith made so obvious on Wednesday: The Steelers' secondary can't wait for Sunday's game.

"No doubt. I know I can't," Carter said. "Guys are ready. We like the challenge and we know every week it's got to be up to us. We always know that. We go into every game thinking that. Shea always emphasizes that it always starts with us. What more can you ask for?"

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