D-line plays its game

The very first time the Titans had the ball they gave it to running back Chris Johnson on their very first snap and Johnson promptly gained 21 yards with it.

But this time the Steelers' defense – an uncharacteristic and uncomfortable No. 22 in the NFL in rushing defense prior to Sunday's Heinz Field meeting with Tennessee – wasn't deterred.

"It was, 'All right, let's go. Let's not let that happen again.' And that's what we did," defensive end Brett Keisel said.

"We settled down," nose tackle Chris Hoke added. "And we got (back to) playing our game."

Johnson would finish with just 51 rushing yards on the day and the Titans with only 66 as a team in what became a 38-17 victory for the Steelers, a win that was as reassuring as it was one-sided.

The offense made its mark, from Ben Roethlisberger's five touchdown passes to Hines Ward's first two receiving touchdowns of the season to Jonathan Dwyer's 76-yard run on the way to a 107-yard afternoon to Heath Miller's continued rise up the franchise's lists for receiving yards and touchdowns.

But for the defense, it was all about stuffing the run.

The Steelers did so in satisfying fashion, especially given the circumstances and the statistics.

They got Keisel back after a two-week absence (knee) for the Tennessee game. But they were without nose tackle Casey Hampton (shoulder) and defensive end Aaron Smith (foot).

Enter Hoke, who took the field having participated in a victory 15 times in 16 career regular-season starts prior to last Sunday. Second-year nose tackle Steve McClendon was also more heavily called upon than usual, as were former No. 1 picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward at defensive end. And both of them produced, with Heyward collecting his first career sack and Hood adding a half-sack.

That revamped line set a tone that resonated throughout the defense.

"I thought we played the run pretty well for the most part, except for one or two runs here or there," Hoke said. "We always talk about, in order to be able to stop the pass and get after a passer we have to shut down the run. If we don't shut down the run they have play-action and everybody's kind of being antsy. Having success with the run helped us."

The Titans' 66 rushing yards constituted the second-lowest total allowed by the Steelers this season (Seattle had 31 on Sept. 18).

For a defense that coughed up 170 rushing yards on Sept. 11 at Baltimore and 180 on Oct. 2 at Houston, that's progress.

"I'm excited to watch this film (on Monday)," Hoke said. "I still have to get better, don't get me wrong. I still need to work and Steve (McLendon), we need to work together to hold down that fort, until hopefully, Casey comes back, so that's what we'll do."

The defense knows the standard to which it is and will be held, especially against the run, even without the likes of Smith, Hampton and outside linebacker James Harrison, who will miss a few more weeks after having surgery to repair an orbital bone on Oct. 5.

"Those guys are great players but we have good depth here," Keisel said. "This is the National Football League. Guys are going to go down; that's part of the game.

"You have to have guys step in and play."

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