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09-19-2009, 10:19 PM
Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report
There's been a debate all week in Pittsburgh about the Steelers' running game and whether they are now a passing team because they cannot run. Even Jerome Bettis weighed in on it.

The debate had its roots in last season's poor running attack - the Steelers ranked just 23rd in the NFL - and ignited anew when they gained just 36 yards on 23 carries in their season opener. At the same time, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 363 yards.

Now they head to Chicago, where the Bears' defense was terrible against the pass and good against the run last season.

It's only the second game, but Steelers football seems to be taking on a new shape, and has been over the past few seasons.

The Steelers have never been known as a passing team and their running feats are legendary. This has been the franchise of Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Frank Pollard, Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. Their quarterbacks have never been fantasy football favorites, no matter how much they win.

It's grind-it-out football. Get ahead, play great defense and run to hold the lead and keep the ball away from the other guys. They did not necessarily follow that formula last year, and they might be on a whole new passing track for 2009.

"It's one of those things the media all over the country say if we throw the ball 25 times we can't win," said Roethlisberger, who completed 33 of 43 PASSES against Tennessee to win in overtime. "We quietly laugh at all of you guys, more than usual. It's fun to be able to win it that way, and the o-line take pride in that as well. Just as much as the running game, wide receivers, myself, the o-line, we take pride in winning games when we can throw it too."

Parker and his line would love to show that the opener was a fluke (Parker ran 13 times for 19 yards) but the cold facts are the line did a much better job of pass blocking than run-blocking.

"We've got to get better in that area as a football team," coach Mike Tomlin said. "For one reason and one reason only, that increases our chances of winning. That's what we're about, putting ourselves in position to win. We acknowledge that if we continue along those lines from a run-game standpoint that that doesn't help us in that regard, so that's why we're focusing on it."

Parker and Rashard Mendenhall have come in for much criticism for their timid running against Tennessee. Mendenhall, on his first carry from scrimmage since his season-ending injury in the fourth game of 2008, ran smack into Roethlisberger. Mendenhall had run the wrong way.

In the past, the Steelers often used play-action to the extreme and it worked well because they ran the ball so often and so well. Now it's being suggested the reverse might be true, that their passing game might have to set up the run.

"I see us being a balanced offense," Roethlisberger said. "That's what I have always said we are. We are the Steelers, so we are supposed to run the ball, but we have some great wide receivers, great tight ends, the offensive line can pass block as well. If you ask me we are a balanced offense."

SERIES HISTORY: 25th meeting of a series that began in 1934. Bears lead 16-7-1 and have won 11 of 12 played in Chicago. However, the Steelers have won the past three games against the Bears, including their previous one in Chicago, 1995, when they beat the Bears 37-34 in overtime, a game that started them on a streak that helped put them in the Super Bowl. The Steelers' last meeting against the Bears, a 21-9 win in Pittsburgh, was the first of an eight-game winning streak that ended in a Super Bowl XL victory.


—FS Ryan Clark may not play Nov. 9 in Denver because of the reaction his blood had to his sickle cell trait two years ago when he played in the Mile High City's altitude.

"I've taken the test, I've taken the pictures and done all those things, so I guess we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it," Clark said.

The high altitude caused a reaction in Clark's blood that attacked his spleen. He lost his spleen, his gall bladder and more than 30 pounds after that game and did not play again in 2007.

—Jerome Bettis, in his first column for si.com, did not have many good things to say about the Steelers' overtime win against Tennessee in their season opener. Bettis wrote that the defense won't be great any more without Troy Polamalu, and he ripped the offensive line and the running game.

"Willie Parker: I haven't seen much from him. Rashard Mendenhall: I haven't really seen him, period. One thing I have seen is Mewelde Moore making plays. And I think the little guy's going to get more of those opportunities as the Steelers continue to grow into what I think will be more of a passing team in 2009."

—Four of the five starting offensive linemen have received long-term contracts this year. LT Max Starks, LG Chris Kemoeatu, C Justin Hartwig and RG Trai Essex are all signed. Only RT Willie Colon enters the final year of his contract, and he will be a restricted free agent if there is no new collective bargaining agreement.

—The Steelers have not had consecutive defeats in their past 19 regular-season games. The last time they lost two straight came near the end of the 2007 season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 16-4 - Steelers record against NFC opponents since 2003, including two Super Bowl victories.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Jerome knows he is the media so I will laugh in his face too." - QB Ben Roethlisberger, on criticism of the Steelers leveled this week by his former teammate, Jerome Bettis.


The Steelers switched out practice squad players at the tight end position. Dezmond Sherrod is out and Kevin Brock is in.


—CB Ike Taylor has been known to cover the opponent's best receiver, lining up wherever they put him. Devin Hester is Chicago's best by far and Taylor could draw that assignment Sunday.

—RB Willie Parker will start Sunday, but he and Rashard Mendenhall will rotate. Parker will play two series, then Mendenhall one, and they will do it that way unless one gets hot.

—S Ryun Mundy, on the practice squad last year as a rookie, is now the top backup at both free and strong while Troy Polamalu sits out the next 3-6 games. Tyrone Carter starts at SS for Polamalu.

—WR Mike Wallace, a rookie third-round pick, could get more playing time this week because of an injury to Limas Sweed and because his three catches in the opener from the No. 3 spot gained his QB's confidence.

—WR Hines Ward needs only 117 yards to hit 10,000 receiving in his career. He already holds that team record, as well as the team mark for career receptions with 808.

—TE Heath Miller, who tied his career high with eight receptions in the opener, needs 4 receiving yards to become the team's fifth tight end to hit 2,000 and first since 1994.

—LB Keyaron Fox, who led the team with nine tackles in the opener, will start again in place of Lawrence Timmons on the inside.

—KR/PR Stefan Logan's 39-yard kickoff return in the opener was just four yards short of topping the Steelers' best kickoff return in 2008.

GAME PLAN: Forget about the run. The Steelers can talk all they want about trying to establish the ground game, but they won't do it this week. Look for the Steelers to pass against a team that ranked 30th on pass defense last season. Defensively, they will go after Jay Cutler in a more controlled manner (they did not blitz much in the first game), especially with Troy Polamalu out, and count on Cutler to make mistakes. Their top priority, as normal, will be to stop the run.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bears PR/KR Devon Hester vs. Steelers much-improved coverage teams

Bears DE Adewale Ogunleye, vs. Steelers OT Willie Colon. Ogunleye, starting on the left side, had two sacks in the opener. Colon, at right tackle, has had trouble against long-armed pass rushers.

Bears OT Orlando Pace vs. Steelers OLB James Harrison. Pace may be 6-foot-7 but some think he's over the hill. Harrison, who is 6 feet, is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

INJURY IMPACT: SS Troy Polamalu (MCL) is out and Tyrone Carter will start. The Steelers' schemes will be more limited because of Polamalu's absence.

—LB Lawrence Timmons returned to practice on Thursday and was listed as probable after Friday's practice. He has a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the opener. Keyaron Fox replaced him and led the team in tackles.

—WR Limas Sweed did not practice Friday after leaving practice Wednesday with a foot sprain. He was ruled out for Sunday and will be replaced on the roster by veteran Shaun McDonald.

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