B-Mac: Better than we thought

Bryant McFadden interception (AP photo)

An abdominal injury won't stop the Steelers' underrated cornerback.

PITTSBURGH – Since 2005, no Steelers defensive back has played in more playoff games than Bryant McFadden.

That's because McFadden left the Steelers last year and played two playoff games for the Arizona Cardinals.

And he was awful. McFadden was one of the reasons the Cards gave up 45 points in both of their playoff games, and he was run out of town.

The Steelers knew McFadden better. They knew he at least fit their run defense, and that he was better than what they had as a physical cover-3 pass defender. So they got him back cheap and he'll play in his 11th playoff game Saturday, Jan. 15.

He promised, even though he's sidelined this week with an injury.

"It's an abdominal strain," said the Steelers' left cornerback. "I'm just going through treatment and looking forward to getting back on the field next week. There's no question – as long as there are no setbacks – that I'll play in the first playoff game."

That's a relief to a team that's come to realize McFadden is better than they – we – all thought.

Playing opposite Ike Taylor, McFadden has held up his end for a secondary that's been playing elite-level football since it was shredded by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

At that point, after nine games, the Steelers had a defensive passer rating of 85.6. But that passer rating in the last seven games has been 53.7 as the Steelers finished at 73.1 overall, second in the league to the Green Bay Packers. The Steelers also finished first in fewest yards per attempt (6.3).

Those statistics are key pass-defense indicators, and in 2008 the Steelers also finished first in YPA and second in passer rating.

So, what happened after the Patriots game?

"We've just been focusing in," said McFadden. "The communication level with everybody has been on the same page. In the New England game, it went in spurts. People were running by themselves a little bit and it had a lot to do with miscommunication. We've settled in a lot more, you know, watching film together as a group, things like that. We're just a lot more focused in."

McFadden fought off hamstring problems to play in every game this season. That went away, but now he's dealing with the abdominal strain. He doubts he could've played this coming weekend.

"But I'm feeling much better than I was at this time last year," he said. "Last year I had a sternum problem. I shouldn't have even played. This is different. The bye will help me out a great deal."

NOTES – Troy Polamalu also missed practice Wednesday but is happy about the progress of his leg injury and could practice Sunday. … Aaron Smith again participated in light drills, but wouldn't reveal much about his partially torn triceps. He called his progress day-to-day and said that when he's close to being ready to play, he'll make the final decision. That point doesn't appear close yet.

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