Names have changed to protect deep ball

The Pittsburgh Steelers will try again to win at New England, but this time the names of some key players have changed. It should favor the Steelers ... but don't tell the New England media.

PITTSBURGH – The writers in New England last year lambasted Anthony Smith for the so-called guarantee he made on behalf of his Pittsburgh Steelers.

The same writers are on the attack again this year. Both Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were asked about Smith in conference calls Wednesday, and both tried to put the old story behind them.

"But he did it again!" the writers responded.

Of course, the writers are attempting to overhype another non-event. Here's what Smith actually said to a suburban Pittsburgh reporter Thursday night after the Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals:

"If we play like we've been playing, and our offense comes around and has a good game, and we're clicking on all cylinders, we're going to win the game."

Smith forgot to say that if his team scores a lot of points, and the Patriots score a few points, the Steelers will win the game. But that's just crazy talk.

Tomlin responded to the hyperventilating New Englanders that he hadn't heard the latest Smith comment, even though he had. The previous night, on a Fox 970 radio show, Tomlin was asked about it, and he responded this way: "Why do you interview backup safeties?"

Great point. Smith isn't starting this year. This year, the starters are back in the lineup, and Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu figure to do a better job against the Patriots' passing game.

"We were confident last year against them," said Polamalu. "Obviously they beat us up pretty good. But this year's a different story. They're a different team; we're a different team."

The Steelers will have Polamalu and Clark, not Smith and Ty Carter, in their deep patrol. And the Patriots will have Matt Cassel, not Tom Brady, throwing the ball.

Last year, Brady threw for 399 yards and four touchdown passes in the Patriots' 34-13 win. At one point in the game, Brady threw 32 times in 33 plays. After Deshea Townsend got hurt, the Steelers were forced to use a linebacker to cover slot receiver Wes Welker and Brady went to him on six consecutive plays.

But the actors in this play have changed. Along with the safeties, the Steelers might also have Townsend back in the lineup. He practiced Wednesday for the first time since leaving the Indianapolis game three weeks ago with a hamstring injury. The Steelers should also have Bryant McFadden back for the first time since he broke his forearm Oct. 19 against Cincinnati.

In Brady's place is Cassel, the former college backup who's thrown for over 400 yards the last two weeks. Last week, Cassel completed 30 of 43 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were caught by Randy Moss, who was the recipient of single coverage most of the game. The Miami Dolphins felt it was more important to use their free safety over the top of Welker instead of Moss. Clark was asked which receiver he'd cover.

"Whichever one you can hit the hardest," Clark said. "I don't really care, to be honest with you. You just do your job. The biggest thing with us this year is everyone's been doing their job. If it's my responsibility on that play to stop Randy Moss deep, I can't worry about what (Welker)'s doing, and vice versa.

"The one thing about our defense is you have to worry as much about what we're going to do as what you're trying to do. You have to keep LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison off your quarterback. So a lot of these things you have time to do against other teams, I think we don't allow those."

Clark's bravado might not rise to the level of his teammate Anthony Smith, but then again, you'd never want to say something like, "If we score more points, we'll win." It'd be too big of a deal in New England.

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