With their secondary suddenly susceptible to the long ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers have demoted starting free safety
Anthony Smith, the second-year veteran who guaranteed a victory over the
New England Patriots two weeks ago.
Eight-year veteran Tyrone Carter will move into the starting lineup for Thursday night's game at St. Louis, where the Steelers hope to end a two-game losing streak and secure at least an AFC wild card playoff berth.
Carter, 31, has started four games this season at strong safety when Troy Polamalu was injured. With Polamalu having recovered from a sprained knee, and returning to the starting lineup for last week's loss to Jacksonville, Carter is available to move to free safety, where he has played at times in the past.
"Football is football," Carter said. "As long as I'm out there, the job is still the same, whether I'm playing free safety or strong safety."
Pittsburgh surrendered only one completion of 40 yards in its first 12 games of the season. But the Steelers have allowed three pass plays of more than 40 yards, all for touchdowns, in their consecutive losses to New England and Jacksonville. Smith, a third-round pick in the 2006 draft, and a player Steelers officials still feel has a bright future in the league, was involved in all three.
The former Syracuse star has been caught looking into the opposition backfield at times, and on other occasions has been too aggressive on play-action, biting on the fake and allowing receivers to get behind him. Pittsburgh plays a lot of cover three technique in passing situations and Smith has to remain deep. Too often, however, he has moved up in the secondary, making the Steelers vulnerable to long passes.
"The last couple of games, we've given up big plays," coach Mike Tomlin
said, according to The Associated Press. "We've got to get that corrected. We can't allow that to be
a consistent pattern. We can't allow that to happen in St. Louis if
we want to win in St. Louis."
In the days preceding the Dec. 9 game at New England, Smith said that, if the Steelers all did what they were supposed to do in the contest, they would beat the undefeated Patriots. That was then turned into a guarantee of sorts by the local media, and the Patriots' players used it as a motivational ploy. New England went after Smith and completed two long touchdown passes against him.
Smith, 24, probably will be involved in the team's "dime" coverage packages. For the season, he has 63 tackles, two passes defensed and two interceptions. The more experienced Carter has 46 tackles, two passes defensed, and a pair of forced fumbles in 2007.
With the demotion of Smith, the Steelers might reshuffle half of their secondary for the matchup against a still-potent Rams passing attack. Cornerback Ike Taylor suffered a sprained left knee on Sunday. If he can't play, No. 3 corner Bryant McFadden will move into the lineup.
Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.