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mesaSteeler
10-21-2010, 08:32 AM
Collier: Running against Steelers a losing proposition
Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10294/1096893-150.stm

Whether or not James Harrison officially enters a comfortable retirement filled with cardigan sweaters and hot herbal tea before this weekend, the Miami Dolphins are going to try to run the ball against the Steelers come Sunday, so the question hasn't really changed.

Why?

I mean, why bother?

"Offenses are always going to try to use two phases," said Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who has managed 30 more tackles than Harrison this season without drawing any official scrutiny. "They don't want to just pass, so they're always going to try to run."

The illusion of balance, one would conclude, is preferable to the embrace of black-and-gold reality.

No running back has managed more than 42 yards against the Steelers this season, not even Tennessee's Chris Johnson. Though acknowledged in some parts as the single most-potent offensive force in the game today, Johnson managed 34 yards on 16 visibly frustrating attempts Sept. 19 in Nashville.

Michael Turner of Atlanta got 42 yards in the opener, Willie McGahee of Baltimore found 39, and Cleveland's Peyton Hillis, who'd scored in five consecutive games before Sunday, got only 41. No one else managed more than 30.

"At some point in a lot of our games," said nose tackle Chris Hoke, "teams decide, 'We can't keep doing this and win the game.' "

But this is only Thursday, so the art of self-delusion remains robust at the minimum.

So, this time it'll be Miami's Ronnie Brown, not that it would matter if it were Jimmy Brown. Ronnie will be joined by the veteran Ricky Williams, who in two career starts against the Steelers has averaged 2.6 yards, less by a few inches than the typical rushing attempt against Dick LeBeau's defense this season.

One suggested story line is that since Brown is a true running back operating the wildcat formation, as opposed to a converted quarterback or wideout, this will somehow flummox the defense that has allowed only one 100-yard rushing performance in the past 39 games, only nine in the past eight years. I won't be biting on that one.

"Last year, Cleveland had some success with [Joshua] Cribbs doing that against us," said defensive end Nick Eason, who's likely to start this week in lieu of hamstrung Brett Keisel. "Anytime that you put on film that a particular play is successful against you, teams are going to try that. With Miami having two great running backs on the field at the same time, that can be an issue. You've got to play great technique, because you don't really know what they're going to do."

I have a feeling that I do know what Miami will do in the running game. It will fail, just like everyone has so far. It's only a matter of when Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning will say "to hell with it" and go toward more viable options, such as two of the top five third-down receivers in the NFL, Davone Bess and Brandon Marshall.

It's no accident that running against the Steelers is the least-popular play-call in the NFL in 2010. The 117 rushing attempts by opponents are the fewest against any team in the league, and that figure includes some panicked quarterbacks gaining run-for-your-life yardage on designed pass plays. The reason for so few attempts remains obvious, as yards per attempt are a league low 2.7, but don't be surprised to see the Dolphins make another 20 or so attempts on the ill-founded notion that Brown averages 5.5 yards out of the wildcat.

Let's see what he averages when he runs it at Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, and probably what figures to be an extremely hacked off Harrison.

"We'll just be out there doin' our job," said Timmons. "That's always been out mindset. We've got to stop the run."

Nearly a third of the way through the season, no Steelers team in memory has been so accomplished in this area as these guys. They're permitting only 63.8 rush yards per game, which, while partly a function of other teams abandoning the very notion of running against them, is superior to that of any Steelers Super Bowl team. The best of those, the '08 team, allowed 80.3 rush yards per game.

Contingent to some extent on No. 92's retirement plans, you might be looking at the best Steelers run defense ever, or certainly at a team with a chance at such a designation.

"I would think so," said Hoke. "It's not really a time to reflect on that right now, but we have the potential to be as good at it as any team we've had."

Maybe James should just pay the fine.


Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10294/1096893-150.stm#ixzz12wA8k3hD