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Old 01-24-2009, 11:55 PM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Steelers must get 'vertical'

Utterback: Steelers must get 'vertical'
By Bill Utterback
Times Sports Staff
Published: Sunday, January 25, 2009 12:21 AM EST

I’m looking for some “vertical grass.”

After Santonio Holmes returned a punt for a touchdown in the Steelers’ playoff victory over San Diego earlier this month, coach Mike Tomlin said his staff anticipated the opportunity for a big play.

“We felt like … if we hustled and got bodies on bodies, we would have some vertical grass with Santonio.”

Vertical grass is good. It’s progress. It’s movement toward the goal.

Horizontal grass, apparently, is not good. It’s movement toward the sideline. It’s getting pushed out of bounds for a 2-yard loss. It’s a wasted opportunity, a failed attempt.

It’s become my favorite euphemism.

“Hey, son, have a good day at school. See if we can get some vertical grass in geometry.”

Shut up, dad.

“Hey, beautiful daughter, let’s pocket the phone and make some vertical grass on those dishes in the sink.”

Dad, I’m busy.

“Hey, kids, anybody see that roast beef I was saving for my lunch?”

Yeah. We fed it to the dog and he dragged it through the vertical grass.

As I construct this column, I see I’m stuck in the horizontal grass.

The problem, as we look toward the Super Bowl, is that in recent weeks the Arizona Cardinals’ offense has been much better at finding vertical grass than the Steelers’ offense.

On championship Sunday, the Steelers’ only offensive touchdown against the Ravens came on a fluttering broken-play pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Holmes.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, produced four wonderfully conceived, wonderfully executed scoring plays.

I liked the flea-flicker that pierced an over-aggressive Eagles defense and went for a touchdown from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald.

I liked that Fitzgerald, when everybody expected a fade pass, ran an underneath route and converted opportunity into a touchdown.

I liked Fitzgerald, with the underneath route tugging at the cornerback’s imagination, running the fade route without accompaniment and catching a touchdown pass.

Then, with everybody focused on wideouts, I liked the inside screen to running back Tim Hightower to win the game.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was the coordinator who, in the Steelers’ 2006 run to the Lombardi Trophy, used a flea-flicker for a touchdown in a playoff win against Cincinnati, and an option pass from receiver Antwan Randle El to Hines Ward for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals, in the past two weeks, led the Carolina Panthers 27-7 at halftime and led the Eagles 24-6 at halftime. A well-crafted game plan reveals itself early, especially in the hands of savvy quarterback.

Warner may be the best at making a dynamic plan pulse.

Roethlisberger is the best at reviving a pulse after a plan flatlines.

In the past two weeks, Warner has thrown six touchdown passes. Roethlisberger has thrown two touchdown passes while the Steelers have relied on punt returns and interception returns to shape victories.

If the Steelers offense doesn’t find a more reliable path through the vertical grass, hope will travel horizontally.

(Getting "vertical" is good but getting PHYSICAL is the best. - mesa)
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