Head to Head: Chiefs RB Larry Johnson vs. the Steelers' run defense

A closer look at the game within the game

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There have been many candidates in the past two seasons, many players who have tried to accomplish the feat.

Rudi Johnson, Jamal Lewis and Reuben Droughns get twice as many opportunities because they play in the same division. Others, such as Tiki Barber, Curtis Martin and Willis McGahee, have had a single chance. LaDainian Tomlinson had two cracks in the past two years. All have failed ... except one.

Running for 100 yards against the Steelers' defense is not a common occurrence. It happens with such irregularity that running backs should get a late-night appearance on Dave Letterman if they do.

Since Cincinnati's Johnson rushed for 123 yards against them on Oct. 3, 2004, the Steelers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in the past 38 games, including playoffs. The culprit was Edgerrin James, who had 124 yards in last year's Nov. 28 game in Indianapolis.

Then again, the Steelers have never faced Kansas City's Larry Johnson. Until today.

Johnson burst onto the scene last season like no other running back since Bo Jackson, replacing injured Priest Holmes in Week 8 and rushing for more than 100 yards in the Chiefs' final nine games. Despite a limited season, he finished as the AFC's leading rusher, gaining 1,750 yards and averaging an NFL-best 5.2 yards per carry among backs with more than 1,000 yards.

"He's a special back," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "You'll see him cut back for a big guy. He's not a straight line guy. He does have the ability to jump cut and he works downhill when he's doing it."

One week after holding Tomlinson to 36 yards on 13 carries, the Steelers will try to do the same to Johnson, the former Penn State running back who has not had as much success this season running the ball.

But they will attempt to do so without several of their defensive starters, most significantly, Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, who will not play because of a hamstring injury sustained in practice last week. Because his backup, James Harrison, sustained a high ankle sprain in the loss in San Diego, Porter will be replaced on the right side by Arnold Harrison, a first-year free agent who will make his first NFL start.

Johnson has managed two 100-yard games this season, giving him 11 in past 13 starts, but teams have stacked their defenses this season to stop the 6-foot-1, 230-pound back. He has posted modest numbers in four games -- 331 yards on 90 carries, a 3.7-yard average -- and has had difficulty getting outside with the retirement of Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf.

"He's the guy with the bull's-eye on his chest with what he did last year," said Chiefs coach Herman Edwards. "Then you lose your quarterback. The first couple games [defenses] weren't respecting beating you with the pass. They put a lot of guys in the box."

The Chiefs have devised other ways to get Johnson the ball. That's why he has a team-high 20 catches for 268 yards, including a 78-yarder last week that set up the winning field goal in the Chiefs' 23-20 comeback victory in Arizona. On the play, Johnson's neck was injured when he tackled by the facemask, but he will play against the Steelers in the state where he starred as a collegian.

"It really doesn't bother me because every time they put eight in the box it gives Damon [Huard] an opportunity to make plays," Johnson said. "Even though I haven't done much on the ground, I have 100 yards receiving. Running is only one aspect on my game."

But a very good aspect.

Chiefs' Larry Johnson
Click photo for larger image.

Steelers' James Farrior
Click photo for larger image.



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