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Old 09-14-2010, 07:27 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Harris: Steelers hit the ground running

Harris: Steelers hit the ground running
By John Harris
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When Sunday's game ended in storybook fashion -- courtesy of Rashard Mendenhall's 50-yard touchdown sprint in overtime -- Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians could finally discuss his decision to run the football with a straight face and not a frown.

The joke's on us, apparently.

That was Arians standing in the winning locker room, sounding like a loyal employee dutifully following team president Art Rooney II's offseason mandate to re-emphasize the run.

"The running game, that's going to be our savior," Arians said.

If you haven't been paying attention to the Steelers' reluctance to run the football the past couple of seasons under Arians, you probably don't live in Pittsburgh.

How the Steelers planned to change their point of emphasis from a passing team to becoming more of a running team -- and that plan was already in the works before Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games -- was among the big stories entering the regular season.

The running game worked against Atlanta -- just like Rooney wanted.

The Steelers rushed 31 times against the Falcons, compared to 26 passes. They averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Mendenhall rushed for a game-high 120 yards.

The offensive line started blocking harder, or so it seemed, when it became obvious the Steelers were going to stick with the run.

"We knew if we stayed with our blocking technique and fundamentals, we were going to break one sooner or later," said right guard Trai Essex, who teamed with right tackle Flozell Adams to create a path on Mendenhall's touchdown run. "We were wearing on them. We won it in the trenches."

Mendenhall looked anything but winded on his 22nd and final carry of the game. He appeared as fresh as he did on his first carry.

"That's how the run game works," Mendenhall said. "You've got to stick with it, and it'll pay off at some point."

Arians was giddy -- in no small part because his offense also remained true to the pass. In case you didn't know, Arians' infatuation with the pass -- particularly in traditional running situations -- is why Rooney spoke about the need to re-establish the run.

Last season's pass/run ratio featured Arians calling more passes than runs in 10 games. In five games, the Steelers ran more than they passed. In one game, the offense featured an even split between the pass and run.

"We have to run the ball (so we can) hit some chunks in play-action," Arians said.

As a result, Arians continued calling Mendenhall's number even when the running game wasn't successful.

The Steelers' offense mounted three consecutive drives in the first half without converting a first down. Mendenhall carried five times for 15 yards.

But when the Steelers' field position improved in the third quarter, Arians immediately dialed up a 52-yard bomb from Dennis Dixon to Mike Wallace.

"Finally, we took a shot. I don't care," said Arians, explaining his aw-shucks attitude toward throwing deep. "We hit Mike, and that was a huge play. If you keep pounding them (with the run), you'll get the linebackers up and you can get behind the zone."

Not to mention making your big boss happy.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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