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mesaSteeler
10-11-2010, 12:36 AM
With Ben back, Steelers won't pass on rushing
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/print_703721.html
By Mark Kaboly
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, October 11, 2010

Ben Roethlisberger is back and looking like he hasn't missed a day of practice -- let alone nearly a month.

With pleasantries and acquaintances with his teammates out of the way, the hard part is starting for the coaching staff. How exactly are the Steelers going to use their franchise quarterback after what transpired in his absence in the past month?

Will the Steelers continue to run the ball 60 percent of the time, their pace through four games? Or will they let Roethlisberger pick up where he left off last year, throwing the ball more than 30 times a game?

It depends on whom you ask.

Ask a wide receiver, and you get: "He is our franchise quarterback, so we are not going to close our playbook to anybody," said Hines Ward, who has caught six passes in the past three games.

Ask an offensive lineman, and you get: "We are running way too successfully. And in order for us to be a truly successful team, we have to be two-dimensional," tackle Max Starks said.

Ask a quarterback, and you get: "I don't know," Roethlisberger said.

The Steelers will try to be somewhere in between ... sort of.

"It's definitely going to go in another direction, but I don't think it is going to change too much from what we've been doing," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "At the same time, we are going to throw the ball."

Roethlisberger is coming off one of the best seasons by a quarterback in franchise history. He threw for a team-record 4,328 yards and 26 touchdowns, but the Steelers faltered down the stretch and blew five fourth-quarter leads to miss the playoffs for the first time in three years.

With Roethlisberger sitting out because of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, the Steelers went 3-1. That was achieved in spite of the offense: The Steelers rank near the bottom of the NFL in passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense.

"That's not us," Wallace said. "It is insulting to us ... but you will see how fast we skyrocket."

Minus Roethlisberger, the Steelers relied on their running game and Rashard Mendenhall, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 411 yards.

"(It) might be a real godsend to the Steelers because it kind of forces you to rely on other aspects of your team," said Brian Billick, the former Ravens coach and current Fox analyst.

Last season, the Steelers threw 536 times and ran 428. This season, the Steelers have passed 81 times compared to 123 rushes. Given the team's fast start, throwing the football as the first option might not be in the plans anymore.

"(Roethlisberger) is our all-world quarterback, but what we've established is great," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "We are going to add him to that establishment. We are not going to get away from things we are used to. We may put it up a little more, but at the same time, it is going to open up the run game."

The Steelers averaged just 3.1 yards per carry Sunday in a 17-14 loss to the Ravens but still ran the ball 27 times. They have run the ball more than they've passed in every game this season. In 2009, that happened four times.

"You look at our rush offense, and it is definitely top 10 right now, where our passing is not up to par," Starks said. "Now, we can fully make this a top-10 offense -- not necessarily by rewriting the script, but by just fine-tuning things that already are in place."

Does that mean going back to the nearly 60-40 pass/run ratio from a year ago?

Said Starks: "I don't see that happening."

Mark Kaboly can be reached at mkaboly@dailynewsemail.com or 412-664-9161.