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No running allowed by Steelers' defense

When Browns quarterback Colt McCoy ran for 6 yards with barely a minute remaining in a 41-9 loss to Pittsburgh the first week of January, he prevented the Steelers from something achieved only twice during a 16-game NFL season.

He kept them from allowing fewer than 1,000 yards rushing for an entire season.

Even during one of the most prolific passing seasons in NFL history, 100-yard rushers are commonplace -- except against Pittsburgh. The Steelers didn't give up one to an individual all season while allowing a scant 1,004 yards in 16 games.

Only two teams, the Jets and Patriots, ran for 100 yards against a defense that permitted 62.8 per game, the third-lowest average since the 1970 NFL merger.

Many teams try to establish a running game early against Pittsburgh, fail miserably and abandon the run. The evidence: The Steelers allowed 58 yards rushing or fewer seven times. The 333 attempts against were the fewest in any NFL full season -- 14-game or 16-game -- since 1970.

The Bills ran the ball just 17 times for 71 yards in an overtime loss to the Steelers, with Fred Jackson running 12 times for 59 yards.

"Nobody tries," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said Tuesday. "They give up."

While Baltimore's offense increasingly relies on Joe Flacco's ability to spread the ball among receivers Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and running back Ray Rice, Rice still ran for 1,220 yards in a balanced offense. And he might have had a lot more yards if he hadn't opposed the Steelers twice.

While Rice is the only opposing back to gain 100 yards in the Steelers' last 50 games -- he had 141 during a 23-20 Ravens loss last season -- he gained only 52 on 17 carries against them in two games this season. As a team, the Ravens ran for 113 yards during the season series.

Not even the Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s shut down the run so successfully or so consistently. These Steelers allowed only one run of 20 yards-plus all season, a 24-yarder by Oakland's Michael Bush.

"We always stop the run around here," said 340-pound nose tackle Casey Hampton, whose girth and strength make it difficult to run up the middle. "Look at the last 10 years, that's what we do. It's nothing new to anyone around here."

Coaches talk repeatedly about the importance of not becoming one-dimensional when playing a quality team. Against the Steelers, however, it happens almost weekly.

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said the Steelers offer so many looks in their 3-4 defense, they are difficult to prepare for, much less run against. Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu is excellent against the run, and Hampton forces runners outside, where the linebackers run them down. Inside linebacker James Farrior, who turned 36 last week, is having one of his best seasons. Outside linebacker James Harrison is a Pro Bowl starter for a fourth straight time.

"You know that (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau is going to have a wrinkle or two, something that you haven't seen in a couple of years," Palmer said. "You never know what you're going to get."

All this creates a quandary for the Ravens going into Saturday's all-AFC North divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh.

Do they try to do what no team did all season by running the ball consistently? Or do they trust that Flacco, with more wide receiver talent at his disposal than he had when Baltimore lost the AFC title game in Pittsburgh two years ago, can beat them with his arm?

"If you watched their game (against Kansas City), they used the pass to kind of set up the run. The sharp plays to (tight end Todd) Heap, the checkdowns to Ray Rice to kind of get him going and when they kind of got the game in hand, you bring (Willis) McGahee in and kind of pound the ball at the end," Clark said. "I don't know what their approach is going to be, but we're ready for both."

During a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said the NFL's two best teams will play in Pittsburgh this weekend -- even if the winner winds up playing the AFC championship game in New England.

"We both finished 12-4," Suggs said. "That's why, I think, the stakes are so much higher, the two best teams in the NFL. You can argue Atlanta and New England but anyone can argue the winner of this game will [be] most likely to go on to win the Super Bowl."

Even if that winner can't run to get there.

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