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Old 11-11-2008, 12:44 PM   #1
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Default Steelers' running game in lengthy, costly slump

Steelers' running game in lengthy, costly slump
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
By Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If the Steelers have the power to set the city's mood by what they do on the field, the week got off to a grim start. It was overcast, cheerless and chilly, with an occasional snow flake drifting along like a lost soul, driven by biting gusts that knifed up a main thoroughfare that could have been called the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

And the weather was dismal, too.

Much of the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth remained focused on the quarterback-- it comes with the territory and the $102 million contract -- after a loss to the Indianapolis Colts that dropped the Steelers into a tie with Baltimore for first place in the AFC North Division.

Coach Mike Tomlin described Ben Roethlisberger's play as "not up to snuff," but he had the same evaluation of the whole team after the 24-20 loss Sunday. But he did add, "Sometimes, [quarterbacks] get a little bit too much credit when we win, and they get a little bit too much blame when we lose."

Two killer interceptions undermined the Steelers and Roethlisberger, who has one touchdown and eight interceptions in the past three games.

But sifting through the rubble of a very un-Steeler-like streak of two consecutive losses at home is another disturbing trend. A team whose personality for decades has been built on the run has been unable to impose its will on opponents.

Injuries have been part of the problem. It hasn't helped that Willie Parker has missed substantial time because of knee and shoulder ailments, or that No. 1 draft pick Rashard Mendenhall is out for the season, or that replacements such as Najeh Davenport have been released without having made much of a contribution. It also hasn't helped that the retooled offensive line has been patched up because of injuries to Kendall Simmons, Marvel Smith and tight end Heath Miller.

But whatever the reason, the Steelers have not rushed for 100 yards as a team in their past three games. Overall, an organization that built a reputation of being dominant in the rushing department has an offense that ranks 24th in the league with an anemic 96.7 yards per game.

The worst output on the ground since the NFL merger in 1970 came in 2003, when the Steelers were second from the bottom in rushing. That's when they were throwing the ball with Tommy Maddux, and Amos Zeroue had replaced Jerome Bettis as the feature back. They finished 6-10 that season under Bill Cowher, whose tenure was otherwise characterized by running attacks and tough defenses.

Run aground
Rushing yards and carries for the Steelers this season:
Opponent Yds. Car.
vs. Houston 183 39
@ Cleveland 117 31
@ Philadelphia 33 19
vs. Baltimore 69 28
@ Jacksonville 129 26
@ Cincinnati 125 27
vs. New York Giants 95 22
@ Washington 64 29
vs. Indianapolis 55 26

Before that, the worst the Steelers had rushed the ball since the merger in 1970 was in 1989 under Chuck Noll, when they finished 18th.

What in the name of Barry Foster and Bam Morris is going on?

The Steelers rushed for 55 yards on 26 attempts Sunday, a paltry 2.1 yards per attempt, with a long run of 9 yards. One of the game's pivotal moments came in the fourth quarter when Mewelde Moore, who already had two rushing touchdowns, was stopped twice at the 1-yard line. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal.

"Everybody knew what the play was going to be, and we came off and stuffed it. That was a big momentum play to hold them to three there," said Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, who employs a stunting defense that likes to shoot the gaps with the strong safety.

Bettis, who once epitomized the power running game as "The Bus," used to say that running the football is mostly will and determination, an attitude and commitment. In his new role as an analyst, he has noted with chagrin that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians largely has banished the fullback from game plans.

Eric Foster, the Colts' defensive lineman who made both stops on Moore before he had a chance to attempt a leap, concurred about the attitude.

"They ran the same running play six times," Foster said. "It was a matter of who wanted it more, who was going to fight the hardest."

Those fights used to go the Steelers' way most of the time.

"It's never just one thing," Parker told KDKA-TV on his weekly show yesterday.

But he also indicated that wills are tested in those short-yardage situations.

"I just have that mindset. I'm going to fight, scratch and do anything to get across that line," said Parker, who said his shoulder is fine without there being any word on whether he will start this Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field.

In their three losses, the Steelers have rushed for a total of 183 yards on 61 attempts -- 33 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Parker when down with a knee injury, 95 yards against the New York Giants, and 55 against the Colts.

The season got off to a typical start. The team's best rushing performance came in the opening week against the Houston Texans, getting 183 yards on 39 yards. They topped 100 yards rushing against Cleveland in the second game, with Parker surpassing 100 yards in both games before being injured against the Eagles.

The team rushing total topped 100 in wins against Jacksonville and Cincinnati. But in the wins against the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins, they had 69 and 64 yards.

Worthy of consideration is how the inability to run affects game situations. Holding a 10-point lead and facing a third-and-2 with 90 seconds left in the first half, the Steelers would have been expected to punch it out, especially with a sore-armed quarterback. But Roethlisberger elected to pass, and an interception allowed the Colts to drive for a score just before halftime.

A second interception late in the game led to the Colts' winning touchdown. Roethlisberger blamed no one but himself.

"I lost this game," he said. "I take it on myself. I let the guys down, offense and defense, but the good thing is that it is not the end of the season. We'll come back. When you feel like it's your fault, it really hurts."

The season now comes down to seven games, including a rematch with the Ravens Dec. 14 in Baltimore.

"It's going to be tight to the end. Nobody expected Baltimore or any of those other teams to go away," said linebacker James Farrior.

Added defensive end Brett Keisel: "Hopefully, this punch in the face will help us in the long run. It's going to come down to November and December -- just the way you like it."

The stretch begins this Sunday at home against San Diego, which has had its own problems running the ball. The Chargers rank 25th in the NFL in rushing, one spot behind the Steelers, despite having LaDainian Tomlinson.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08316/926977-66.stm
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Old 11-11-2008, 12:54 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' running game in lengthy, costly slump

I liked reading when Jerome said that Arians is one of those coordinators who has killed the fullback out of the gameplan, which led to kreider being released, and noting the release of Lorenzo Neal in SD and seeing how sluggish the chargers are running the ball. Our running game is either fading away or the Offensive Line coach is having horrible blocking schemes, Not bruce arians play calling but it can be as well by calling the same play all the damn time, its ridicolous.
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