Steelers return to tough stretch that doesn't look so difficult
By The Associated Press
Monday, October 15, 2007
When they were handed their 2007 schedule last spring, the Pittsburgh Steelers must have thought this would be their toughest stretch all season.
It includes consecutive games at Denver and Cincinnati, teams they beat on the road during their Super Bowl run two seasons ago; a Monday night home game against last year's AFC North champion, Baltimore, which defeated them easily twice last season; then, a quick turnaround for Cleveland at home, followed by the Jets in their third road game in five weeks.
What the Steelers couldn't have imagined a few months ago was that only one of the five opponents - the Ravens (4-2) - would have a winning record six weeks into the season. Or that the Steelers (4-1), except for a glitch at Arizona, couldn't have handled the transition from former coach Bill Cowher to new coach Mike Tomlin much more smoothly or successfully.
The Broncos (2-3), Bengals (1-4), Browns (3-3) and Jets (1-5) are off to slow starts that may make the Steelers wary, but probably won't prevent them from being favored to beat all four. No team the Steelers have beaten currently has a winning record, and they can't play a team with one until Nov. 5 against Baltimore.
It's not easy to figure out why the Steelers have been so successful. As usual with the Steelers, no matter the coach or the season, it all begins with a running game that averages 167 yards per game and is second in the NFL.
Willie Parker is averaging 101.4 yards despite running behind an offensive line that has two new starters in center Sean Mahan and right tackle Willie Colon.
"It all starts with the running backs," Parker said. "If we have a good game, the whole team has a good game. So we're like the center of attention with this team."
The Steelers are 16-1 when Parker runs for 100 yards or more. This season, they have won by at least a 21-point margin all four games in which Parker has gone over 1 00.
"It's not a coincidence - pretty much, since I have been here, if we rush for 100 yards, we win the game and most of the time we win it big," Parker said. "We want to stick with the run and just make plays in the running game and the passing game. But it opens up everything when you can run the ball."
The Steelers, despite being without longtime star Joey Porter, are playing better than could have been imagined defensively, too. They have yet to give up a touchdown in the first half, yielding only a combined six points to five opponents, and have allowed only 47 points overall.
They haven't permitted so few points through five games in 70 years, or since their 1937 team gave up only 38 during a lower-scoring era than today.
"I just think they're coming out of the locker room ready to play football," Tomlin said. "That's a good thing. Sometimes teams warm up and find rhythm, especially defensively, and we're coming out the locker room ready to play ."
Scoring points early has been a problem for the Broncos, whom the Steelers meet on Sunday night. Denver has scored multiple touchdowns in the first half only once, while beating the Raiders 23-20 in their second game, and they were limited to a field goal in the first half of their last game, a 41-3 loss at home to San Diego on Oct. 7.
"Denver is a tough place to play - tough team, good defense," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "So it is going to be a challenge for us. We know we have a tough stretch and it all starts with Denver, that's our first stop."
This will be the first Steelers-Broncos game in Denver since Pittsburgh's 34-17 win in the AFC championship game in January 2006. Denver won in Pittsburgh last season, 31-20. ... The Broncos also had their bye last weekend. ... Some Steelers defensive players visited Porter, who is now with the Dolphins, in Miami late last week after Tomlin gave them four days off instead of the scheduled three. The Steelers returned to practice Monday but will be off, as usual, on Tuesday.