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Steelers secondary thriving without Polamalu

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Steelers secondary thriving without Polamalu

PITTSBURGH (AP) Will Allen knows he's not Troy Polamalu. He also knows the Pittsburgh Steelers don't need him to be for the defense to play with its typical cruel efficiency.

The checklist for Allen on a given week never changes: Run to the ball. Don't get beat deep. Go where you're supposed to. When appropriate, hit somebody.

Allen has no delusions about what will happen whenever Polamalu's right calf finally heals. He'll go back to the bench and watch one of the best safeties of his generation go to work.

Until then - and Polamalu has already been ruled out for Monday night's home game against Kansas City - Allen will do his best to be Polamalu-lite.

Very lite.

``I'm just doing my job,'' Allen said Wednesday. ``I just want to be on my Ps and Qs and I want to be effective and have urgency. When I'm reading my keys and I'm helping this team, that's the main thing that I care about.''

The Steelers turned to Ryan Mundy to fill in when Polamalu initially hurt his calf in the season opener against Denver. Mundy, however, struggled in pass coverage and earned a couple of costly penalties at crucial times, most notably an unnecessary roughness penalty against Oakland that send wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey to the hospital.

Polamalu returned against Philadelphia on Oct. 7, though his comeback lasted all of a quarter before he reinjured the calf, this time more seriously than the first. He hasn't stepped on the field since, though the secondary hasn't missed a beat.

Pittsburgh (5-3) leads the NFL in pass defense at the midway point, allowing 174 yards per game. That number is dropping every week and took a big plunge when Allen and company shut down Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants last week in a season-turning 24-20 victory.

Manning completed 10 of 25 passes for 125 yards and an interception as the Steelers frustrated one of the league's most dynamic passing attacks.

Then again, it's becoming a habit.

Pittsburgh has beaten Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III and Manning during its three-game winning streak, three very different quarterbacks with three very different ways of going about their business.

None of them were successful against a defense that has rediscovered its bite even without Polamalu and his flowing locks freelancing all over the field. The only place where the Steelers have really missed Polamalu is in splash plays.

There are few - if any - better than Polamalu when it comes to instinctively creating turnovers. With the four-time All-Pro standing on the sideline for the last month in grey sweats, Pittsburgh has taken the ball away just three times.

The Steelers hope those numbers will pick up against the woeful Chiefs (1-7), whose minus-21 turnover differential is by far the NFL's worst. Pittsburgh just doesn't need to get its hands on the ball to survive, though. The defense is just fine sending the opposition trudging off the field to punt, something happening with increasing regularity.

Pittsburgh is allowing teams to convert just 30 percent (11 of 37) of third down opportunities during its winning streak thanks to better execution on first and second down, and a sudden burst of chemistry in the secondary.

``We're starting to put the pieces together for where we need to be,'' cornerback Keenan Lewis said. ``The (defensive) line, they're getting to the quarterback much faster. The linebackers are playing out of control. It's helping us out in the back end.''

Then again, Lewis and fellow corner Ike Taylor are doing their part. Victimized early in the season - particularly in road losses to Oakland and Tennessee - the duo have shut down the likes of A.J. Green and Victor Cruz in recent weeks.

Lewis sent a message on the first play against New York, swatting down a deep ball from Manning to Hakeem Nicks. It was Lewis' way of saying he wasn't going to be intimidated by the surroundings or the circumstances.

``I just wanted to let `em know that they can't catch us off guard,'' Lewis said.

The Giants never did. Taylor collected his first interception of the year late in the first quarter with a spectacular diving grab. It was a difficult catch, one that allowed him to laugh about the easy one that clanged off his chest in the end zone later in the game.

``I'm inconsistent,'' Taylor said. ``You know my hands (are) suspect, that's just how it is.''

Taylor knows he can afford to joke about it when the Steelers win but he's only too aware the drop extended a New York drive the Giants eventually scored on.

``Is it something we can work on? Yes,'' Taylor said. ``Does it help your team out? Yes, because it gives the offense more opportunities to make plays.''

Just don't expect the defense to take any unnecessary chances to make them happen. That's what Polamalu does. Until his familiar No. 43 is back in the lineup, Allen and the rest of his buddies are fine just sticking to the fundamentals.

Besides, in a way, Allen notes the only difference between a punt and a turnover is who gets to run around with the ball.

``The more and more we play together, the better we're getting,'' Allen said. ``We've just got to continue executing and having a sense of urgency and attention to detail and playing fast and playing hard and I think that'll take us a long way.''

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NOTES: The Steelers signed WR Derek Moye and put him on the practice squad while cutting TE Jamie McCoy from the practice squad. ... Pittsburgh is 3-0 at home.

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5.19.18: Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with IndyCar icon Lynn St. James

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USA TODAY Sports

5.19.18: Rick Horrow The Sports Professor talks with IndyCar icon Lynn St. James

Rick Horrow The Sports Professor sits down for an exclusive interview with Lynn St James and more from the $1 trillion dollar business of sports in this week's 'Beyond The Scoreboard with Rick Horrow'

By Rick Horrow

Podcast Producer: Tanner Simkins

LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE

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Wizards' first pre-draft workout to feature Diallo of Kentucky, local star from UMBC

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards' first pre-draft workout to feature Diallo of Kentucky, local star from UMBC

The Washington Wizards will hold their first pre-draft workout on Tuesday at Capital One Arena and the group of six players features some familiar names. 

Included in the mix is guard Jairus Lyles, who starred for the Unversity of Maryland-Baltimore County and helped lead them as a 16-seed over top-ranked Virginia in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first 16-over-a-1 upset in the tournament's history.

Here are the six players with some notes on each one...

Chris Chiozza, guard, Florida (6-0, 175)

Chiozza played four years at Florida and finished as the school's all-time assists leader. He averaged 11.1 points, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game as a senior.

Hamidou Diallo, guard, Kentucky (6-5, 198)

Diallo redshirted in 2016-17 and played one season for the Wildcats. He averaged 10.0 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 45.8 percent from the field. Diallo measured 6-foot-6 with shoes at the combine and boasts a 7-foot wingspan.

Tiwian Kendley, guard, Morgan State (6-5, 190)

Kendly was a big-time scorer at Morgan St., averaging 21.0 points as a redshirt junior and 26.1 points as a senior. He took a lot of shots, however, averaging 18.2 field goal attempts on 45.3 percent from the field this past season. Kendley starred at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Maryland before joining the college ranks, first at Lamar Community College.

Jairus Lyles, guard, UMBC (6-2, 175)

Lyles was the leading scorer for the Retrievers this past season as they became the biggest underdog Cinderella in NCAA history. He averaged 20.2 points and shot 39.0 percent from three on 6.1 attempts. Lyles began his college career at VCU and played high school ball at nearby DeMatha.

Doral Moore, center, Wake Forest (7-1, 280)

A three-year player at Wake Forest, Moore had a breakout season as a junior with averages of 11.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Moore played with Sixers star Ben Simmons in high school.

Ray Spalding, forward, Louisville (6-10, 215)

Spalding played three years at Louisville and averaged 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.5 steals per game as a junior. He posted a 7-5 wingspan at the NBA Combine. Spalding played with Jazz star Donovan Mitchell in college. 

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