Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

For the Defense Stingy Steelers Rate as Afc Favorites

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

For the Defense Stingy Steelers Rate as Afc Favorites

Article excerpt

Don't be confused by that 37-34 loss in San Diego. The team to beat in the American Football Conference playoffs remains Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have the best defense and the best running game in the conference. And thanks to the home-field advantage, they'll have those Terrible Towel-waving fans backing them at Three Rivers Stadium right up to the Super Bowl.

"There's a level of confidence on our team that's allowed us to look at this thing very objectively," coach Bill Cowher said. "We know that we can play with the big boys, but at the same time, we recognize that we're not going to do it just by showing up.

"We've got to prepare. We've got to work. We've got to understand that all the little things are very important. I think that's kind of been the mindset that we try to take - week in and week out."

Comparisons with the Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s are premature until a Super Bowl title - or two - is won. But no one can dispute the talent the Steelers have in the secondary and at outside linebacker in Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd.

"There's a good mix on our team on the defense, particularly of youth and experience," Cowher said. "We've got pretty good team speed. We've got some good players, and we've been able to stay healthy."

There's not much flash on offense, but the Steelers do have the best one-two punch at running back in the National Football League. Barry Foster and rookie Bam Morris rushed for 1,687 yards between them this season. Thirteen running backs were selected ahead of Morris last April, but only Marshall Faulk and Errict Rhett surpassed Morris' 836 yards rushing this season.

Picking Up The Pieces: The winter forecast in Buffalo calls for high winds - as in winds of change.

The Bills enter the offseason with 17 unrestricted free agents, including linebackers Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley, and safety Henry Jones (St. Louis U. High and University of Illinois).

Signing Bennett, who might seek more than $3 million a year, is the top priority on defense.

"I've expressed all along I do want to stay here," Bennett said.

Jones has a "transition" label on him, meaning the Bills have the right of first refusal on any contract offer he gets. …

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