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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bus stoppers

 Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis historically has not run well against the New England Patriots. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Howard Ulman Associated Press

FOXBORO, Mass. – The Bus up the middle, Duce off tackle and the champs swarming to bring them down.

The New England Patriots expect Pittsburgh to give them a heavy dose of running backs Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley in Sunday’s AFC championship game.

“It takes 11 guys to tackle these guys,” Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison said Wednesday. “You have to stop the running game. You can’t let them control the clock and just dictate the game.”

The Patriots’ chances for their second straight Super Bowl title and third in four years could suffer if defensive lineman Richard Seymour, chosen for his third Pro Bowl this season, remains sidelined by a knee injury. He missed the last two games and was questionable on the latest injury report.

“It’s always going to hurt when you lose an All-Pro like Richard Seymour,” nose tackle Keith Traylor said, “but young guys like Jarvis (Green) have stepped up.”

Green started for Seymour and made two tackles in last Sunday’s 20-3 win over Indianapolis and Peyton Manning.

But the Steelers are an extreme contrast to the Colts’ pass-oriented offense.

Pittsburgh ran the ball on an NFL-high 63.3 percent of their plays this season, led the league with 618 carries – compared with just 358 passes – and topped the AFC with 2,464 yards rushing. In Pittsburgh’s 34-20 win over the Patriots on Oct. 31, Staley gained 125 yards and Bettis 65 of Pittsburgh’s 221 yards on the ground.

The 255-pound Bettis and the 242-pound Staley are more likely to run over defenders than dance around them.

“Other teams have a change-up,” Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “They bring in a back who doesn’t want to be physical so they can give you a change of pace. But then (the Steelers) bring Duce. He wants to do the same thing as Bettis, but he’s fresh. It’s going to be pound, pound, pound – whether we can stop them or not.”

One of the best offensive lines in the league, with Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and Pro Bowl center Jeff Hartings, leads the way for Bettis and Staley.

The Patriots could put eight or nine defenders near the line to stop the run, but that would open up the field for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“We’ve got to be physical,” Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said. “We have to be aggressive. We have to try to hit them at the line of scrimmage, because with big guys, once you get them in the secondary that’s when they try to let loose.”

So it comes down to the Steelers’ bruising backs against the Patriots’ hard-hitting defenders.

“Nobody’s going to trick anybody. We’re going to go out and play smashmouth football,” Traylor said.

Since the loss in Pittsburgh, the Patriots have allowed teams to rush for more than 81 yards only twice in 10 games.

Only five teams allowed fewer yards on the ground than the Patriots, and Bettis has run for only 346 yards and one touchdown on 110 carries in his seven games against New England.

But he’s on a roll now.

He rushed for 101 yards in last Sunday’s 20-17 win over the New York Jets, the seventh time he rushed for at least 100 yards in his last nine games.

“I don’t think we stopped either back in the previous game. They have got to feel pretty confident with whoever they put out,” Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel said.