Notebook: Who's the dirtiest?

One of the subplots within the Pittsburgh Steelers' game today at New England is the match-up of Steelers flanker Hines Ward and Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison. Here's a look at that and more.

In 2006, NFL players polled by Sports Illustrated determined, for the second time, that Rodney Harrison was the league's dirtiest player, and by a runaway margin.

Sixth on the list was another familiar name, and the only wide receiver in the top 10: Hines Ward.

Those two players will form one of the featured match-ups this afternoon, when Ward leads the Steelers' downfield blocking brigade against Harrison and the Patriots.

The two players respect each other and talk often in the off-season.

"Before the season started," Ward said, "He said to me, ‘Hey, man, out of all the receivers, I really respect you a lot, the way you play the game, and I'll see you when we play you guys in the season.'

"We're going to have our battles, or course, but even after 14 years in the league he's still a dominant safety and if you go across that middle, expect to get hit hard because he is a great, hard hitter."

Harrison turns 35 next week but remains one of the Patriots' best tacklers. Since returning to the starting lineup following an NFL substance-abuse suspension, Harrison has 41 tackles in seven starts, which is second only to linebacker Tedy Bruschi's 53 in that span.

Harrison also threw $5,000 into the league kitty this week after he was fined for taunting Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick following a Patriots interception. Billick returned Harrison's taunts with blown kisses.

According to ESPN, Harrison has paid the NFL over a quarter of a million dollars in fines throughout his career. Ward was asked about Harrison's on-field behavior.

"Out on the field he's like the Tasmanian Devil," Ward said. "He's just like Troy (Polamalu). Troy's a great guy, but when you get out on the field he'll knock your head off. It's like night and day. After the game, he'll shake your hand, ‘God bless, good luck to your family, and see you out at the Pro Bowl.' He's a great guy, but he's a competitor. I hit him pretty good one time my second year. I thought I really laid him out, but he shook it off, shrugged his shoulders, busted up the next play, and said ‘You got me, but I'm coming back for more.' You get a guy like that, you know you're in for a long battle all day long."

Ward showed last Sunday that he hasn't softened either. Cincinnati safety Madieu Williams belted Ward during a completed pass. Ward got up and smiled and went back to the huddle. Williams left the field to vomit.

"He hit me pretty hard, but I expect guys to hit me," Ward said.


The Steelers' pass defense is ranked first in the NFL because it allows only 154 passing yards per game. The Steelers are also first in fewest yards per pass attempt (5.32), lowest completion percentage (53.1) and is second in stingiest passer rating (69.4).

Polamalu will be a game-time decision with his injured right knee, but the play of Tyrone Carter the last two weeks in Polamalu's place is an indication of the Steelers' depth in that secondary.

"The whole group is like brothers," said Carter. "We do everything together. We chill together, we work out together. We do everything together. We have fun, and when that happens it just brings that camaraderie out and it's easy to be on the same page. We know what guys are capable of doing, good and bad, and we work off that."

The secondary will get its biggest test of the season today from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and wide receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Against the Steelers last season, Moss caught only two passes for 20 yards for the Oakland Raiders.

"Well, he wasn't happy there," Carter said. "Anytime he's not happy, he's really not trying to play his best and I knew that with him. He's in a situation now where he's got a lot of guys around him so he doesn't have to be the big fish. When you see guys all around you making plays, it makes you want to make plays, too. Now his career has done changed."


Part of the Philadelphia Eagles' game plan against the Patriots two weeks ago was for nose tackle Mike Patterson to line up in the "zero nose" position, head up, over Patriots center Dan Koppen, and then bull-rush Koppen back far enough to keep Brady from comfortably stepping up. It's a strategy the Steelers could easily copy with Casey Hampton.

"Patterson's a good player, so it's no surprise he did well when he wasn't double-teamed," Hampton said. "Any quarterback, when you push in their face, it's going to be tough on them. That's what Coach Mitch (John Mitchell) has been telling us this week, just try to push and if you can't get to him make him feel uncomfortable back there.

"We rush three a lot more than the Eagles did that game. But if they don't double me, I'll do the same thing."

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