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Farrior gets Steelers' vote as top defensive player

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ James Farrior has already gotten one teammate's vote as the NFL's top defensive player this season. Make that a lot of votes.

``I've gone online like 20 times and voted for him (for the Pro Bowl),'' Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said.

The Steelers might not feel the need to stuff the ballot box if Farrior were a bigger name _ or, perhaps, a bigger talker. But while he lacks the reputation and name recognition of defensive stars such as Julius Peppers, Simeon Rice or Willie McGinest, Farrior is enjoying one of the best seasons of any NFL player.

Farrior's line score to date: four interceptions, four forced fumbles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, 81 tackles. With numbers like those, Steelers coach Bill Cowher said Farrior is making a strong case for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

There may be some better pass rushers, there may be some better interceptors,'' Cowher said.But when you look at a guy who plays the run the way he plays the run, who plays the pass the way he plays the pass, who has the production that this guy does, and does the things we ask him to do, I don't think there is a more productive defensive player in the National Football League.''

Farrior's best asset, according to his coach, is that he has no discernible weakness.

He's made big hits, made tackles inside the box. He makes plays outside the box, drops back into coverage, rushes the quarterback, sets the defense,'' Cowher said.He's having a very productive year.''

Farrior has had nothing but productive seasons since the former Virginia star broke in with the New York Jets in 1997. He was credited with a league-high 101 tackles in 2001, but had to move inside in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense after being a weakside linebacker in the Jets' 4-3 defense. Farrior's numbers dropped off after he signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2002, but he has been the Steelers' top tackler the last two seasons.

He's playing very instinctively, he's playing very decisively,'' Cowher said.He's just playing with a lot of confidence right now. He knows not only what he's doing, but what everybody else needs to do.''

The Steelers (12-1) allow a league-low average of 257 yards per game, and their strong defense has kept their 11-game winning streak going despite a recent falloff by the offense.

Pittsburgh hasn't scored more than 19 points in any of its last four games, but hasn't allowed more than 16. The Steelers have yielded only five touchdowns in six games, twice holding an opponent to only field goals.

We know sometimes its going to come down to good defensive play, and that's what we love,'' Farrior said.As a defense, those are the kind of games you want, and we thrive on that.''

The Steelers' long succession of excellent linebackers Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland, Joey Porter was another reason why Farrior signed with them, even though he had to change positions.

My goal is to go out and make every tackle in the game,'' Farrior said.I know that's probably not possible, but it's my goal to try to make it happen.''

Unlike Porter and linebacker Larry Foote, Farrior isn't a big talker on the field, but that didn't prevent his teammates from nicknaming him Big Play.

That's what's separating him from every other linebacker in the league,'' Foote said.He's making big plays, and so many of them have helped us win games. A lot of guys come out and have bad games, but James is there every week.''

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