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Old 12-09-2006, 12:23 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' offense is finally clicking

Steelers' offense is finally clicking
Pile up yards instead of turnovers

Saturday, December 09, 2006

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It might be a little too late, but the Steelers' offense is beginning to reverse a pattern. Instead of piling up turnovers, they are piling up yards. Instead of giving the ball away, they are moving it up and down the field.

Time is running out on the Steelers' season, barring some frantic, unexpected finish in the final three weeks. But their offense finally hit its stride Thursday night in a 27-7 victory against the Cleveland Browns. On a night when the wind chill dropped the feel-like temperature to a Jeff Reed field goal, the offense warmed up and cut through the Browns like a hot knife through stick margarine.

Ben Roethlisberger started it with a perfect 49-yard touchdown strike into the wind to Nate Washington, orchestrating a passing game that produced 225 yards and no interceptions. In between, there were scoring drives of 97 and 91 yards. And Willie Parker finished it with a franchise-record 223 yards rushing that included six runs of 11 yards or longer.

When it was all over at Heinz Field, the Steelers had amassed a season-high 528 yards offense, their highest total since Ken Whisenhunt became their offensive coordinator in 2004

"We feel we have the confidence to come back like we did in the fourth quarter in Cleveland," Whisenhunt said, referring to the Steelers 24-20 victory Nov. 19 against the Browns. "But our style is to do what we did [Thursday] night."

What the Steelers did to the Browns would be any team's desired style. They passed for 225 yards, rushed for a season-high 303 yards and possessed the ball for 38 minutes, 47 seconds, also a season high.

That they did it on a poor field in a blustery wind only further illustrated the efficiency with which the offense gouged the Browns.

"It was tough out there, but I think our guys did a great job," said Roethlisberger, who did not throw an interception for the fourth time this season. "The receivers adjusted to the ball. The ball was moving a lot out there. For them to be able to focus and catch the ball like they did, I give them a lot of credit."

Piling up yards is nothing new for the offense, which ranks third in the AFC in yards gained. They have generated 457 yards or more in five of the past nine games, matching the number of 450-yard games from the past two seasons combined.

Granted, the numbers compiled Thursday night were against the Browns, who have the 12th-ranked defense in the 16-team AFC. But it was the Browns who stymied the Steelers for three quarters last month before finally discombobulating in the final 11 minutes.

"The quarterback was very good and hit some plays early in the game," Whisenhunt said, referring to Roethlisberger, who has never lost to the Browns (5-0). "We're not realistically going to be able to do that all the time, but it was an awful lot like we've done in the past.

"We're improving. I think we're a little better than we have been. The biggest thing is the turnovers. You eliminate some of those turnovers, we got two or three more wins and now you're saying, wait a minute, the record is good and the offense is better than last year. There have been some fumbles and some interceptions that have prevented us from appreciating what we've done."

The good news is, even those are on the decline. The Steelers are still among the league leaders in giveaways (31) -- only the Browns have more (32) -- but they have committed just seven in the past five games. They won the turnover battle against the Browns (2-1), unlike their last meeting, and have improved to 5-0 in games in which they commit fewer turnovers than the opponent.

The only turnover came when Parker fumbled after a 20-yard run to the Browns 36 in the second quarter. Najeh Davenport, who gained a season-high 62 yards on 14 carries, also fumbled, but it was recovered by Santonio Holmes.

But Parker did just about everything else. He carried five times for 26 yards to set up Roethlisberger's 49-yard touchdown pass to Washington, culminating a 97-yard drive that was the Steelers' longest since Oct. 27, 1996. In the third quarter, he carried eight times for 45 yards on a 12-play, 91-yard drive that resulted in Roethlisberger's first touchdown run since the Super Bowl.

"I liked the 97-yard drive," Whisenhunt said. "But I really liked the drive to start the second half."

"I feel like we are playing good football right now," Roethlisberger said. "And we need to continue to do that. We are playing good teams down the home stretch."

NOTES -- The victory at least means the Steelers avoid one dubious distinction: They will not have the worst record by a defending Super Bowl champion. Denver was 6-10 in 1999. ... Until they scored with 5:20 remaining, the Browns had not managed an offensive touchdown against the Steelers in 11 quarters, dating to last season. ... The Steelers are 5-0 in games in which Roethlisberger rushes for a touchdown, 7-0 counting playoffs.

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