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The Green Factor, the Bell Factor

William Green was called "the horse who put us on his back" after rushing for 178 yards and leading the Cleveland Browns past the Atlanta Falcons last week and into a first-round playoff meeting Sunday with the Steelers.<p>

The Browns lost quarterback Tim Couch in the process, so there's little doubt that the Steelers' defensive game plan will be to stop Green, the rookie who's gained 726 yards in his last seven games, and force back-up quarterback Kelly Holcomb to beat them.

There's a fly, however, in the Steelers' ointment. Inside linebacker Kendrell Bell missed another practice Thursday with a sprained left ankle that has bothered him all season. Both he and cornerback Chad Scott (hand) missed practice and are expected to work Friday. But the Steelers are prepared to work without both, so stopping Green has become priority No. 1 for Bell's replacement, rookie Larry Foote.

Is he ready?

"Well, he's been with us since July," said Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "He started some games and has played as a reserve and has done a very capable job. He doesn't have a choice but to be ready. It's the nature of the business. We have all the confidence in the world that he can get the job done."

Foote started in place of Bell earlier in the season and the run defense suffered. The Steelers allowed an average of 4.5 yards per carry without Bell and only 3.6 yards per carry with him. But the difference wasn't all because of Foote.

"You don't notice the same style of player that Kendrell Bell is but that doesn't mean he didn't play well," said Lewis. "Besides, you don't run the ball on a certain guy in our defense. We're a defense that can move and slide and run games to try to help him. We'll do everything we can to try to get that done."

As for Foote, he's preparing to play, and play as if it's the biggest game of his life. "It's almost like Ohio State-Michigan," said the former Wolverine. "Earlier this year I got a lot of experience so I'm ready for it. It was a learning experience early in the season, but just watching Kendrell play and being in the meetings room, watching film, that's how I've gotten better. I know the defense more, so I can play a little faster."

Playing fast was easy for Foote at Michigan, where he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season. But he wasn't drafted until the fourth round because of a 40-meter dash time that didn't stand out. In fact, that was the same reason Green lasted until the 16th pick of the draft in spite of gaining nearly 3,000 yards in 31 games at Boston College.

The Browns took a chance on Green and his 4.6 40 speed, and were then criticized for it after Green managed only 161 yards in the first nine games of this season.

In two games against the Steelers, Green ran for only 26 yards on 11 carries, but moved into the starting lineup the week after the Browns' second game against the Steelers. Seven games later, Green was voted the team's Player of the Year by Cleveland sportswriters.

"There's a reason he's a No. 1 draft pick," said Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith. "He's explosive, powerful, has good vision. You saw last week he can take it the distance at any time. He's got good speed. If he gets in the open field, no one's going to catch him."

"I don't know if he's one of the elite runners in the league but he's definitely a threat," said nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Would stopping him be difficult without Bell?

"Without Kendrell it's going to be different anyway," Hampton said. "Cleveland's playing well, together. I think more than William Green, their offensive line has really stepped it up. They're really playing good. They get on their blocks and work real, real well as a unit. Earlier, they'd have a breakdown here and there but now everybody's jelling. They're together."

--Jim Wexell

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