View Full Version : Timing is right to restore Steeler's offense

12-02-2008, 05:14 AM
Timing is right to restore Steeler's offense
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Neither rain nor sleet nor hail nor the gloom of the New England Patriots could keep the Steelers' running game from its appointed rounds Sunday.

But can it keep up?

The Steelers rediscovered what had been one of their worst ground games since they joined the American Football Conference in 1970. They entered Sunday's game ranked 24th in the NFL, then raked the Patriots for 161 yards behind Willie Parker's 87 yards on 16 carries, Mewelde Moore's 67 yards on a dozen, and even Gary Russell's 1-yard touchdown run.

It was their best production since the opening game of the season when they cranked up 183 yards against Houston.

Such was the success of the revived Steelers' running attack that coach Mike Tomlin made a sarcastic comment about it during his postgame comments Sunday.

"You know, we still can't run it," Tomlin said when asked about how well his running game did against the Patriots. "We're working. That's what you guys will write, anyway."

Well, they did charge all the way from No. 24 in the league to No. 22 after their hard work Sunday. If that ranking stays that way it will be the second-lowest by a Steelers running game since the 1970 NFL merger with the AFL. Their lowest came in the disastrous 2003 season when they switched to the Tommy Gun attack and ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing. Their previous low was 18th in 1989.

For all the trouble they've had running the ball this season, the Steelers have found a little spark recently. They ran for 121 yards Nov. 20 in a 27-10 victory against Cincinnati and 124 yards in an 11-10 victory Nov. 16 against San Diego.

Until that spurt, they had not topped 100 yards since Oct. 19 at Cincinnati.

Injuries to Parker and rookie Rashard Mendenhall, and in the line to Kendall Simmons and Marvel Smith likely contributed to their sudden downturn on the ground. If they now have a new commitment to the run or merely renewed competence, it's a good time for it to happen.

"You have to be able to run the ball, especially in conditions like this," Hines Ward said Sunday night, after polishing off a 33-10 victory at New England in a steady, cold rain. "You can't go out and pass the ball 40 or 50 times a game. Anything that happened -- turnovers, tipped balls, whatnot -- for us luckily we didn't have to do that. We ran the ball, we were very balanced."

Balance is what the Steelers profess to want on offense, and they've nearly reached that, although not the way they prefer -- they rank 24th overall, 19th passing to go with that No. 22 rushing.

They produced 333 yards against the Patriots and, thanks in large part to their defense, 33 points, their third-highest total of the season. Their defense or special teams set them up at the 1, the 8 and the 26 in New England, three possessions that accounted for 17 points, more than half of their total.

They also overcame an early Ben Roethlisberger interception deep in his territory that helped New England to a quick 7-0 lead.

Still, Roethlisberger tossed two touchdowns in a game for the first time since Oct. 19 and the offense looked more balanced than it has been in a while.

"I think we're jelling, I wouldn't say peaking," tackle Max Starks said. "Everybody has a greater understanding of our offense and we all know how to work well in unison."

If indeed Starks is correct, it's a good time for it.

"Offensively, it takes a little time because everything is based on timing," Ward said. "Over the course of the year, we've had guys banged up. Now that we're kind of fully healthy and everybody's out there, we're starting to jell with one another. Offensively, the last couple of weeks we're heading in the right direction and complementing our defense."

That defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl, still the best in the league across the board. It has not been the case on offense, but it does not have to be.

"We still have more offense," Parker promised. "Our defense really does a lot for us offensively."

NOTES -- The Steelers released running back Najeh Davenport for the second time this season and re-signed defensive tackle Scott Paxson for the second time from their practice squad. He will wear No. 71. They also re-signed rookie defensive back Roy Lewis to their practice squad. ... James Harrison might be re-writing the Steelers' record book in more ways than one. His 14 sacks are one behind Mike Merriweather's record, which has incorrectly been listed as being set in 1987 by the Steelers. He set the record in 1984


12-02-2008, 07:48 AM
Already posted, Perry.