The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 21, 2009

Plenty of pain, but no gains | Injuries haven’t taken much of a toll on run defense

PITTSBURGH — Last week, a newspaper ran a web poll asking readers whether Troy Polamalu should play for the Steelers today against the Kansas Chiefs, even if he’s cleared by team doctors.

An overwhelming majority responded in the negative.

Of course, the Chiefs are only 2-7. The thinking must be that it’s more important for Polamalu to be healthy for the following week’s game in Baltimore.

Polamalu, of course, believes that’s a dangerous way for anyone to view today’s game in Kansas City.

“No question it is,” he said. “You can’t take for granted the NFL and the challenges each week brings around. I know there were some times in my rookie year when we weren’t that good that we still felt we could challenge anybody. I’m sure they feel the same way.”

The young Chiefs, though, will be up against one of the great defenses in NFL history, even without Polamalu and defensive end Travis Kirschke.

Both players have been ruled out of today’s game. But even though Polamalu has missed four full games and three-quarters of two others, and Kirschke has missed the past two games after stepping in for an injured Aaron Smith, the Steelers’ run defense has never posted better numbers.

Opponents are averaging an NFL-low 69.3 yards rushing per game against the Steelers, down significantly from last season’s average against the Steelers of 80.3.

In fact, the Steelers are well ahead of their 2001 team-record pace of yielding only

74.7 yards rushing per game, and could even challenge the league record. Only two NFL teams in the past 65 years have been stingier against the run: The 2000 Baltimore Ravens (60.6) and the 2006 Minnesota Vikings (61.6).

Today’s challenge for the Steelers will be Jamaal Charles, who stepped into the Chiefs’ starting lineup two weeks ago after the benching and subsequent release of Larry Johnson.

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