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Old 10-29-2006, 06:21 AM   #1
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Default Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06

Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06
Sunday, October 29, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


A revolution might be taking place right under the Steelers' noses without them even noticing it. They're passing the torch, along with everything else lately.

The offense that has run more often in each of the past two seasons than any other in the National Football League has turned star-struck. They've become infatuated with the passing game, such as it can be for them.

Not since coach Bill Cowher ditched the pyrotechnic air show erected by offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey with quarterback Tommy Maddox in 2002 and 2003 have the Steelers thrown the ball so often.

They have passed 53 percent of the time through six games. That's certainly not a radical amount because the average NFL team passes more often, 55 percent of the time. But it's a whopping transformation for the stodgy Steelers of the past two seasons.

In 2004, when Cowher became so determined to return to the ground game, the Steelers ran 61 percent of the time and passed 39 percent. Last season, they ran 57 percent of the time. This season, they are running 47 percent of the time, just 3 percent more than they did in the 6-10 season of 2003 that caused Cowher to admit publicly he was wrong to fall so much for the new passing philosophy.

Despite the abrupt turnaround, neither Cowher nor many of his players believe there has been a shift in offensive philosophy.

"I think we have the talent to be a passing team," receiver Hines Ward said. "But me knowing us, that won't happen."

Rookie Santonio Holmes said it all when he listed the priorities for the wide receivers.

"Our job right now is to block first, then catch the ball and make big plays when we need it."

Somehow, blocking won't be high on the priority list of Randy Moss when the Steelers (2-4) play the Raiders (1-5) in Oakland at 4:15 p.m. today.

"Oh, man, with the talent we have, I'm pretty sure that it can be a passing team," Holmes said. "But, right now, we're going to stick with the basics, we're going to continue to win football games the way we know how to, by running the football."

Perhaps that is why they are not winning. Every time the Steelers have run more than passed in Cowher's 14 seasons as coach, they had a winning record. In their only three losing seasons under him, they have passed more than run.

Sometimes, it's not so much a philosophy as it is falling behind in games and passing more often to try to catch up. But the Steelers this season have gone into the fourth quarter of every one of their four losses either leading or trailing by no more than four points, so there has not been a lot of catching up to do.

"We're not going into a game thinking we have to throw the football in order to win this game," quarterback Charlie Batch said. "We go into it wanting to run the football first. Depending on how the game plays out, then we'll start throwing the ball."

Could be, the strength of the team's offense is veering toward the pass, or at least toward more balance than they have shown in the previous two seasons. That might be a necessity as they adjust to the loss of their power back, Jerome Bettis. Willie Parker is not the kind of runner who will grind down a defense in the second half, the way Bettis did, first as a starter and last season as Parker's relief man. Parker's average per carry also has fallen nearly a yard, from 4.7 last season to 3.8 this one.

There's also the matter of Ben Roethlisberger. He's in his third NFL season and, as he matures, the Steelers have given him more reign of the offense. It's been a bumpy 2006 for the young quarterback, but over the past two games he has been phenomenal, completing 32 of 41 passes for 476 yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 154.62. If that's indicative of how much he truly has improved as a quarterback, the Steelers would be crazy not to pass more often.

"I think there's a comfort level he's had, to see a defense and know where the weakness of the defense is and where to go with the ball," Cowher said. "I don't know if we've done more, I think he feels a lot more comfortable and very much in control when he's out there."

Cowher always strived for offensive balance, but it's hard to argue it was wrong to run 61 percent of the time when they went 15-1 with a rookie quarterback in 2004, or 57 percent of the time last season when they won the Super Bowl. But offenses change with the personnel and also as those players grow.

The other time they went to a Super Bowl under Cowher, in 1995, the Steelers ran only 44.5 percent of the time.

"I think you've got to have balance," Cowher said. "As long as we can continue to make the kind of decisions we've made and not turn over the football, throwing the ball effectively and making good decisions, to me that's an added plus.

"You know that people start dropping eight guys down in there, and we have the ability to throw the ball down the field and make some plays. There's nothing wrong with doing that. I've always been a big proponent of balance and not trying to force-feed things."

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06302/733916-66.stm
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Old 10-29-2006, 08:31 AM   #2
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Default Re: Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06

I think part of the reason we are passing more is because we have been trailing more. When you are behind in the second half of a game I think teams pass more.
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Old 10-29-2006, 09:30 AM   #3
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Default Re: Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06

Everytime that we get away from running the ball is when we have bad season's... check the history.. this is Not a pass first team...
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Old 10-29-2006, 09:49 AM   #4
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Default Re: Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06

Chicken and egg scenario -which came first - the Steelers losing record or the fact they need to pass more?

As Lovejoy points out, when you trail in games you need to air it out a little more to get points quicker - im sure if the Steelers found themselves with 14 point leads on a regular basis then they would be feeding teams a steady diet of Parker, Haynes and Davenport.

The D definitely get to rest more when the Steelers are pounding the rock, but the sheer weight of turnovers this year has caused the D to often have to defend a short field with little or no respite.

I predicted before the season that the Steelers identity would be changing, two things have delayed that change - Bens continual injury woes and Parker doing a good job of picking up regular yardage.

Cowher is a smart coach, he knows that teams cant just 'force' this group of players to become a more typical Steeler team - he needs to work with what he has.

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Old 10-29-2006, 10:46 AM   #5
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Default Re: Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06

History may be against passing for the steelers but just look at what has happened when they have been passing verses when they run. They still need to run but they arent getting the big running plays like last year. Let Ben and Charlie throw.
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Old 10-29-2006, 11:42 AM   #6
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Default Re: Yes, the Steelers are passing more in '06

when the steelers get pass happy you will see the end of our season... we need the running game to be successful...
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