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|10-18-2009, 11:34 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Steelers keep airing it out offensively
Steelers keep airing it out offensively
The Associated Press
Updated: 10/18/2009 07:41:19 PM EDT
PITTSBURGH—Offensively, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been identified with a punishing running game throughout most of the past two decades.
This season, they appear to prefer to air it out. A lot.
Pittsburgh (4-2) was fourth in the NFL in passing before Ben Roethlisberger threw for 417 yards in a 27-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the second-best yardage game of his career. He threw for 433 yards against Denver in 2006.
"I don't think we know how good we can be," Roethlisberger said. "Truth be told, I think we have to keep striving for excellence."
Roethlisberger went 23 for 35 with two touchdowns and one interception. He also had a 113.6 passer rating, the third consecutive game it was above 100. The Steelers are averaging 313 yards passing.
Sunday, the Steelers averaged 10.6 yards per pass attempt and had 11 plays of at least 19 yards.
Just call them Air Arians, a reference to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
"They just found some soft spots in the zone and were able to turn those plays into big plays," Cleveland cornerback Eric Wright said. "With a team like that, you can't afford to give them big plays and we gave them a lot. And they took it."
The running game was below average last season even as the Steelers were winning the Super Bowl, and it has been only slightly better this season despite Rashard Mendenhall's 165-yard game against San Diego. He ran for 62 yards and a touchdown on Sunday
"We don't care by what means we move the chains or light up the scoreboard, as long as the job gets done," coach Mike Tomlin said. "A lot of times what we do is dictated by what our opponents do, and we're OK with that."
CRIBBS IN THE WILDCAT: Cleveland's passing offense has been so deficient, ranking second-to-last in the NFL, that the Browns went in a different direction early on: the wildcat.
The ball was snapped directly to receiver Joshua Cribbs during more than a quarter of Cleveland's plays from scrimmage, with varying degrees of success.
While Cribbs was the team's leading rusher with 45 yards on six carries, he also ended what looked to be an early scoring drive when he was intercepted by Troy Polamalu late in the first quarter, the first of four Browns turnovers. The Steelers took advantage by taking a 7-0 lead on Ben Roethlisberger's 8-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller.
"I was doing too much. It's unacceptable," said Cribbs, who had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. "I was trying to make a play when there wasn't a play to be made. Coaches ask you to do your job and that's it. Don't try to do something that the coach doesn't ask you to do. I should have thrown it away."
The interception was the sixth wildcat play on a seven-play drive. The Browns largely abandoned the formation over the next two quarters but brought it out again when Cribbs gained 15 yards on three plays during the fourth quarter.
"When it hit there early, we kept going to it, came back with it a little in the second half and generated a few first downs," coach Eric Mangini said. "I think it's the type of thing that's good because it's different and it'll force our opponent to prepare for a few things."
Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers practiced facing the wildcat last week.
"Just because you prepare for it doesn't mean you can stop it," he said. "He is a special guy, as we continue to see in a lot of different phases. I respect him."
YES, THE STEELERS HAVE A TIGHT END: Heath Miller has long built a reputation as one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends. Now he's showing he can be an elite receiver, too.
Miller entered the game seventh in the league with 29 receptions, and only the Indianapolis Colts' Dallas Clark had more among tight ends. The former first-round draft pick had five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Miller is averaging 5.7 catches and is on pace for 91 after averaging 42 during his first four seasons.
"Like I've always said, the defense kind of dictates where the ball goes," Miller said. "I feel like Ben spread the ball out to everybody today and everybody contributed."
Starting receivers Hines Ward (eight catches) and Santonio Holmes (five) each had more than 100 yards receiving. Rookie Mike Wallace also had two catches.
Miller's touchdown was his team-high fourth of the season and 25th of his career, moving him into second place among tight ends in franchise history. He also surpassed 200 receptions, only the third Pittsburgh tight end to do so.
RIVALRY? WHAT RIVALRY?: Pittsburgh has won 12 consecutive games against the longtime rival Browns, the longest streak in the 59-year series history and tied for the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Steelers have won 18 of the past 19 meetings and the most recent six at Heinz Field.
"They're a great football team; they've won Super Bowls. Sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due," Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs said. "I don't really think about that... You don't count losses that come year after year after year."
The Steelers are 14-3 in their past 17 AFC North games. After trailing by two games early in the season, they're now tied with Cincinnati (4-2), although the Bengals currently own the tiebreaker, and they're one game ahead of Baltimore (3-3), which won its first three games.
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