Head to Head: Bengals RB Rudi Johnson vs. the Steelers' run defense
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In Pittsburgh, they grumble the running back is a home-run threat who cannot get the tough yards necessary for ball control and producing first downs.
In Cincinnati, they grumble the running back is a tough runner who can move the chains but does not have the home-run ability to make big plays.
Bengals running back Rudi Johnson does not break long runs or make highlight-film plays like Willie Parker, his counterpart in today's game at Paul Brown Stadium. He hasn't popped a run longer than 33 yards in 36 games and his longest this season is 22 yards, the second shortest among the league's 20 1,000-yard rushers.
Compare that to Parker, who has five runs of 39 yards or longer this season, including touchdown jaunts of 76 and 72 yards.
Still, Johnson will be among the chief concerns for the Steelers, who haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season and just one in the past 49 games. They are also seeking to duplicate a franchise feat that has been accomplished just once in the past 37 years.
"We always have problems with Rudi," said inside linebacker James Farrior, who leads the Steelers with 145 tackles. "He's a tough runner. You can't have one guy trying to tackle him. You got to gang-tackle him."
Johnson, the AFC's fourth-leading rusher with 1,262 yards, is coming off the best road performance of his six-year career -- 129 yards on 30 carries in a 24-23 loss in Denver that will forever be remembered in Cincinnati for a botched extra-point.
That eclipsed Johnson's previous best game on the road, which came two years ago at Heinz Field when he rushed for 123 yards on 24 carries against the Steelers.
Since then, the Steelers have allowed just one 100-yard rusher in 49 games, counting playoffs -- Edgerrin James (124) in Week 11 last season in a 26-7 loss in Indianapolis. The Steelers would like to enhance the streak by containing Johnson and making it through an entire season without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
It would be only the second time since 1969 the Steelers did not allow a 100-yard rusher in the regular season. The last time it happened was 1997, though Denver's Terrell Davis had 139 yards in a playoff game.
"We know what's at stake here as far as our run defense," Farrior said. "We don't want to give up a 100-yard rusher. We haven't given up one all year. Our defense is a bunch of prideful guys. We want to try to keep that streak alive."
Johnson nearly disrupted the streak last season when he rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Bengals' 38-31 victory at Heinz Field in Week 12 -- the last game the Steelers lost in their Super Bowl season.
The Steelers made sure that didn't happen again in the first meeting this season, holding Johnson to 47 yards on 19 carries in a 28-20 Bengals' victory. The only player who came close to breaking the 100-yard barrier against the Steelers this season was Jacksonville's Fred Taylor, who had 92 yards on 22 carries in Week 2.
The Steelers rank third in the AFC in run defense, behind Baltimore and Jacksonville, averaging 91.2 yards per game.
"He's one of those short guys you don't want to let him get going," said outside linebacker Joey Porter. "He's a tough load. He runs with confidence."
How much do the Bengals rely on Johnson to carry their running game?
His 328 carries are third-most in the AFC. And they represent 78.2 percent of Cincinnati's total rushes, a number that eclipses even Parker, who has accounted for 70.7 percent of the Steelers' total rushes (300 of 419).
First Published December 31, 2006 12:00 am