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Steelers will shorten field against big-play Seahawks

1. Steelers have the plan: get the lead and go for a run

The basic Pittsburgh plan is the same as always: Get the lead with a balanced attack, then go to the run to shorten the game. . . . . The Steelers may give RB Jerome Bettis the honor of starting today in his home town. Willie Parker usually starts, and Bettis enters the game in short-yardage and goal-line situations and when the Steelers go to their clock-control mode. . . . Parker has excellent speed behind pulling guard Alan Faneca on outside toss plays and runs off the edges and has improved as an inside runner. . . . FB Dan Kreider is bothered by an ankle injury and that may force the Steelers to use more two tight-end formations with Jerame Tuman joining starter Heath Miller. . . . Seattle ranked fifth in the regular season in yards allowed per game and yards per play and allowed no 100-yard rushers.

2. Scary thought for the day: Roethlisberger gets better and better

The Ben Roethlisberger of the postseason is improved over the Roethlisberger of September and October and the Steelers' offensive coaches have more trust in him. Big Ben's passing, especially to Miller and third receiver Cedrick Wilson, have been factors in the postseason. . . . It remains to be seen how Roethlisberger will perform in catch-up situations. The Steelers came from behind late in games only twice, narrow wins over San Diego and Baltimore. . . . The Seattle secondary has survived despite injuries at cornerback and the loss of free safety Ken Hamlin to injuries suffered in a fight outside a Seattle nightclub. Marques Manuel started the last 13 games in place of Hamlin. Jordan Babineaux ended up starting opposite Marcus Trufant at cornerback because of injuries to Kelly Herndon and Andre Dyson. Herndon should start tonight. . . . DE Bryce Fisher, a former Buffalo Bill, led Seattle with 9 1/2 sacks. Former Ram Grant Wistrom is the DRE.

3. Alexander makes the plays, big and small

Shaun Alexander, who led the NFL in rushing (1,880) yards and scoring (28 TDs, 168 points), is the key element to the Seattle offense. He mades big plays as well consistent 3-and 4-yard gains. He led the NFL with 51 runs of 10 yards or more this season. . . . Blocking for Alexander is perhaps the most talented O-Line in the NFL. LT Walter Jones and LG Steve Hutchinson, both Pro Bowlers, are one of the best left-side tandems ever in the NFL. . . . Seattle had 24 drives of 80 or more yards during the regular season, most in the NFL. However, running against the Steelers' 3-4 defense and dealing with the variety of zone blitzes and other schemes of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can be difficult.

4. The best quarterback nobody knows?

Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck had the best season of any quarterback in the NFC. He passed for more than 3,000 yards for the fourth season in a row and led the conference with a 98.7 passer rating. He completed 65.5 percent and had a 24-9 TD-INT margin (11-5 on the road). . . . Joe Jurevicius, who had a big game in Tampa Bay's Super Bowl triumph three years ago, led Seattle with 10 TD catches even though he is considered the third receiver. Injuries to Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson put a heavier load on Jurevicius. . . . TE Jeramy Stevens had a breakout season with 45 catches. Veteran Itula Mili, a former starter, backs up Stevens. . . . Seattle allowed only 27 sacks during the regular season but will be challenged by the Pittsburgh rush. OLB Joey Porter and SS Troy Polamalu are threats to get to Hasselbeck on blitzes and could be key factors in the game.

5. And now for something special

Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle El is one of the most dangerous punt return men in the NFL. He returned two for TDs and averaged 10.2 per return during the regular season. . . . Kicker Jeff Reed did not miss from inside 40 yards in the regular season. . . . The Steelers are as rugged as any team covering returns with Ivy Leaguer Sean Morey, a wide receiver from Brown, the special teams demon. . . . Seattle's Josh Brown is a long-distance field goal threat. He had kicks of 50 and 55 yards on grass at home against Dallas.

Prediction: Look for LeBeau's defense to make it an uncomfortable night for Alexander and Hasselbeck. Steelers are back to the form of their 15-1 season in 2004 and Roethlisberger is better. Pittsburgh, 24-16.

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