"Don't jinx him," said Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "He's been the rock for us over there. He's got a great test this week against the rushers we're going to see in DeMarcus [Ware] and Anthony [Spencer] and everybody they bring at you. Max has been a great re-addition for this team and for the offense. Now, we just have to get him ready to play his best game."
Starks, of course, will line up primarily against Ware, who has 11 sacks this season to become the only defender in the league with six consecutive seasons of 10 or more sacks. He currently ranks third among active players with 110½ career sacks.
Ware's bookend, Anthony Spencer, has a career-high 8½ sacks this season and 30 in his career.
"I think they're one of the better tandems in the NFL," said Starks. "They do a good job of squeezing guys, and they have a very athletic defensive line that really causes a lot of pressure. They do a lot of stunting, similar to a San Francisco-type team."
STEELERS' DUO REUNITED
The Steelers' outside linebackers have combined for only 8 sacks this season, after combining for 89½ sacks in the previous four seasons. Ware and Spencer had combined for 84½ sacks in those same four seasons (2008-11) , so it was unwise for a reporter to ask Woodley if Ware and Spencer are the type of bookend pass-rushers he and Harrison "aspire to be."
"Nobody inspired us," Woodley said tersely. "We were doing it for a long time."
"No, do you aspire to have that kind of impact as a two-man linebacking duo?" the reporter repeated.
"To be like them?" Woodley asked incredulously.
"Yes," the reporter said.
"No, man," Woodley said. "You looked at the numbers. You know what it is."
Woodley later said that "when you're talking about duos overall, it's [Dwight] Freeney and [Robert] Mathis."
Injuries to Woodley and Harrison this year have allowed Lawrence Timmons to emerge from both shadows as the top dog, or "Law Dog," as teammates call their inside linebacker.
Timmons had 17 tackles last week against the Chargers, the most by a Steeler since James Farrior had 17 tackles against Tampa Bay in 2006.
Timmons has led the team in tackles the last four games – along with scoring a defensive touchdown – and currently leads the Steelers with 109 tackles, his second 100-plus tackles season.
Timmons leads the team with 34 consecutive starts. Since the start of the 2010 season he's started (44) and played (45) more games than any Steelers linebacker and leads the group in tackles over that time.
In the five games that Willie Colon and Mike Adams have started on the offensive line this season, the Steelers averaged 4.7 yards per carry. In the other 8 games, the Steelers averaged 3.1 yards per carry.
Those stats make clear to all but perhaps Maurkice Pouncey that the Steelers run the ball best with those two in the lineup.
"I don't know, man," said the Steelers' center. "I don't deal with stats. I go by Ws, how physical guys are out there. Stats can go to hell for all I care."
Expect rookie safety Robert Golden to help the depleted Steelers secondary today, but he hopes to have more luck than he did stopping Eric Weddle last Sunday on a fake punt that all but clinched the game for the Chargers.
Ahead 27-10 on the penultimate snap of the third quarter, needing two yards from their own 28, the Chargers' upback outran Golden to the stick after Steelers right end Stevenson Sylvester lost contain by rushing up the field.
On tape, it's clear that Golden wasn't fooled by Weddle, just outrun.
"We knew they didn't have anything to lose, so we expected them to do some type of fake punt or fake field goal or something like that," said Golden. "Before the game we talked about it. We knew they were capable of doing something like that."
BY THE NUMBERS
Keenan Lewis leads the Steelers with 23 passes defensed … Shaun Suisam has converted 14 consecutive field goals for the Steelers. His career high is 15 from 2008-09 with the Redskins. … Heath Miller needs 2 catches for 400. … Cowboys TE Jason Witten is the third all-time leading receiver at tight end with 788 receptions behind Tony Gonzalez (1,230) and Shannon Sharpe (815). … Cowboys kicker Don Bailey has converted 25 of 27 field goals this season.
* James Harrison: "I feel like the last game was a must-win, but some things happened that we're able to still keep the ball in our court. These last three games are must-wins."
* Emmanuel Sanders: "They're definitely not must-wins, but right now we're in control. A loss might take us out of the playoff picture, but it won't take us completely out of the playoff picture."