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Tough test for defense

Posted Sep 15, 2010

The Steelers defense will have their hands full this week attempting to if not stop, at least contain Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Johnson had an amazing 2009 season, rushing for an impressive 2,006 yards and he hasn’t slowed down a bit. And he has the breakaway speed that can change the complexion of a game in a heartbeat.

 

“This guy can run through the back of the end zone every time he touches the football,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “There’s an element of respect that comes with preparing for a guy that is capable of those things. We are familiar with him, we’ve played against him. He stuck his foot in the ground and cut back across our field, and got some yards in chunks on us. That’s a big challenge.”

Last week the Oakland Raiders thought they had Johnson under control until he broke free for a 76-yard touchdown and finished the day with 142 yards rushing.

“He is the fastest guy on the field when he is out there,” said linebacker James Farrior. “We are going to have to be responsible for keeping him contained and not letting him get outside. We take that as a challenge. Our defense will be a little extra fired up this week.”

Johnson is going for his 13th consecutive 100-yard game this week, closing in on tying Barry Sanders’ NFL record 14-straight 100-yard games. If the Steelers have their way, it will be unlucky 13 for Johnson.

“Normally we don’t give up those,” said nose tackle Chris Hoke of opposing 100-yard rushing games. “Usually we shut those guys under 100 yards. He’s done a great job. I don’t know what he’s done against us 100-yard wise in the last couple of years. We’re going to go out there and our goal is to hold him under 100 yards.

 

“That is our goal this Sunday. It’s not going to change because it’s him, even though he is one of the best backs in the NFL. We are going to go out there and continue to do what we do.”

 

What has Johnson done against the Steelers in two appearances? In 2008 he rushed for 69 yards and in 2009 was held to 57 yards.

“We need to keep him in front of us,” said Hoke. “Keep their offense off the field. Get off the field on third down; don’t give them a first down and the opportunity to run the ball. When you give them another set of downs that’s when he starts to get his yardage. Every time he has the ball in his hands he has the opportunity to break a big run.”


* * *

Hoke could be a huge factor in Sunday’s game in Tennessee as Casey Hampton’s status is unknown with a hamstring injury. Hampton didn’t practice on Wednesday and Hoke is preparing to start just in case.

“It’s a different mentality,” said Hoke. “When you are a back up you have to be ready to go. You are sitting on the sidelines for 30 plays and all of a sudden you have to be ready to go. If my number is called I’ll have to go from the first snap and carry the load that Casey does and help this defense prosper.”

One thing working in his favor is Hoke has a pretty good track record when starting. The Steelers have a 14-1 record in the regular season with him in the starting line-up, the only blemish in 2006 against the Oakland Raiders.

“He has been there, done that,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “I think we are undefeated when he is starting. We always hold that against Hamp and tell him Hoke is undefeated and we don’t know why we are playing with you Hamp. We know he can come in and play well.”

 

Steelers Injury Update: Did not participate in practice on Wednesday - WR Arnaz Battle (knee), DE Nick Eason (not injury related), LB James Farrior (not injury related), DT Casey Hampton (hamstring), DE Aaron Smith (not injury related), T Max Starks (ankle), WR Hines Ward (not injury related). Limited participation in practice on Wednesday - QB Byron Leftwich (knee), WR Emmanuel Sanders (quadricep), LB Jason Worilds (shoulder).

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