Asked to name the last running back to gain 100 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker Larry Foote didn't hesitate before answering.
"Edgerrin James did it," Foote said. "And Rudi Johnson. Not to take any credit away from them, but we were playing a lot of zone and Cover 2 and worrying about the passing game, so they stuck 100 on us. But that's the last time."
Foote's memory is very good.
The last 100-yard game against Pittsburgh was James' 124-yard effort for Indianapolis in a Monday night game on Nov. 28, 2005, or 27 games ago counting the playoffs. The regular-season streak is 23 games.
Dating from Johnson's 123-yard game for Cincinnati in the Steelers' 28-17 victory in Game 4 of the 2004 season, Pittsburgh has allowed only one 100-yard runner in 52 games _ or the equivalent of more than three NFL regular seasons.
As Foote's explanation for the last two 100-yard games illustrates, it's a point of pride among the Steelers defenders that opposing backs simply don't get 100 yards against them. James, for example, was held to 56 yards two months later when the Steelers upset the Colts 21-18 in the AFC playoffs and went on to win the Super Bowl.
"We shut him down in the playoffs, so it was payback," linebacker James Harrison said.
Foote is even becoming slightly superstitious as the Steelers prepare to go Sunday against San Francisco's Frank Gore, then NFL's No. 3 rusher a season ago with 1,695 yards.
"I wish y'all would stop talking about that 27," Foote said. "You're trying to jinx us."
Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's system is known for its constant blitzing and keep-'em-guessing change-ups in which safety Troy Polamalu, for example, might line up as a pass rusher on one play and drop in a deep zone on another.
What is often overlooked about Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense is its strength against the run. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and inside linebacker James Farrior are two of the NFL's top run defenders, and Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel often spend far more time defending against the run than do the pass-rushing defensive ends in a 4-3 defense.
Keisel said the 350-poud Hampton is the key because he is so strong and tough to move off the line that he frees others in the defense to run down the ball carrier. Through two games, the Steelers' 148 yards rushing allowed are the fifth fewest in the league.
"A lot of it is our mind-set," Farrior said. "They preach it every day around here, so it's what we as the Steelers have to do: Stop the run, stop the run, stop the run, no matter what."
No doubt LeBeau reminds his players every week of that 100-yard game streak, right?
"He never has," Farrior said. "We just know that when we've got a good back like Gore coming, we've got our hands full. It gets us up for practice and makes us want to work a little bit extra."
Gore had nine 100-yard games last season, six in the 49ers' final eight games. He had 130 yards or more in each of his last six 100-yard games and had 150 or more three times.
This season, Gore has 136 yards in two games as the 49ers (2-0) have managed little offense in beating the Cardinals (20-17) and Rams (17-16). The 5-foot-9, 223-pound Gore missed practice Wednesday to attend his mother's funeral but, despite the sadness in his personal life, the Steelers expect to see a motivated running back Sunday.
"We've got to keep a lot of attention on him," said Foote, who is in his sixth season. "We don't like guys to run the ball on us, and it's been that way since I got here."