Steelers grind it out


Linebacker Joey Porter, left, running back Duce Staley and linebacker James Farrior laugh at the antics of teammate Jerome Bettis during Friday's practice.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 22, 2005 at 12:11 a.m.
FOXBORO, Mass. - Other teams wear throwback jerseys. The Steelers are a throwback team.
Their offense is as hard and unyielding as Coach Bill Cowher's jutting jaw.
The Steelers led the AFC in rushing and would have led the NFL if not for the uniquely talented Michael Vick in Atlanta.
They have an offensive line led by guard Alan Faneca and center Jeff Hartings, both Pro Bowl players. Behind them is a 5-foot-11, 255-pound path-clearing rolling rock - better known as fullback Dan Kreider - and behind him is either 256-pound Jerome Bettis or 245-pound Duce Staley. They're the ones with the football, and as much as he'd like to, Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi knows it's rather unlikely he'll be ripping it out of their arms the way he did right after the Colts' Dominic Rhodes caught a pass in the flat last Sunday.
''The running game sets it all up for them,'' Bruschi said. ''We're going to have to stop the run to win.''
Every team that plays the Steelers (15-1, 1-0) knows that and says that, but nobody really does it. In compiling the league's best record and a 15-game winning streak, the Steelers have turned the clock back 40 years, to a time when all college coaches, and some in the NFL, liked to say that ''three things happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad.''
The Steelers ran the ball a league-high 618 times this season and threw only 358 passes. It's not as if they don't have a solid quarterback in rookie Ben Roethlisberger (17 TDs, 11 interceptions) or capable receivers. Hines Ward (80 catches for 1,004 yards) was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year, and Plaxico Burress' stats (35 catches for 698 yards, a 19.9 average) are pretty impressive considering he missed nearly half the season with a leg injury.
What they have is the mind-set that running the football is Steelers football. Last season with a seemingly burned-out Bettis, no Staley (he was with the Eagles) and an injury-riddled offensive line, the Steelers were uneasy riders on Tommy Maddox's inconsistent right arm. They finished 6-10 and next-to-last in the league in rushing.
Now, they have a healthy line and Bettis is rejuvenated because of his lighter workload.
''Bettis, Staley, Roethlisberger, you've really got to bring your lunch when you tackle these guys,'' Bruschi said. ''If you don't bring Roethlisberger down the first time you hit him, which we didn't always do in the first game (a 34-20 Steelers victory Oct. 31), he's going to throw it to Plaxico.''
At 6-5, 240 pounds, Roethlisberger isn't easy to bring down. And as a former college basketball player, Burress wins most jump balls against shorter defenders.
''This is a game where the schemes don't matter,'' Bruschi said. ''It's 'Am I tougher than you are? Are you tougher than me?'''
The Patriots' linebacking corps has been tougher than most this season. After an injury-riddled 2003 in which Rosevelt Colvin (broken hip) played only one full game and Mike Vrabel and Ted Johnson missed chunks of the season, only Roman Phifer, six weeks shy of his 37th birthday and the oldest player on the team, has missed playing time.
The 6-4, 255-pound Johnson, the best run-stopper among Patriots linebackers, is enjoying something of a renaissance after several injury-plagued seasons. He could be a key performer Sunday after having a much smaller role against the pass-oriented Colts.
The Patriots' best defensive lineman, Richard Seymour, sustained an injury to his left knee Dec. 26 against the Jets and hasn't played since. He is still listed as questionable for the AFC Championship Game Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
''He's feeling better,'' Coach Bill Belichick said Thursday morning. ''He did a little more (at the Wednesday afternoon practice) than he did last week.''
Vrabel, who doesn't get as much action at his outside linebacker position because Seymour is usually in front of him, said that when opponents try to attack the 6-6, 310-pound Seymour, ''it's like getting your hand caught in a car door. It's a long time before you think about trying it again.''
Because the Steelers' smashmouth style is so different than the Colts' finesse-oriented offense, Seymour's presence would seem to be even more vital to the Patriots this week. If he doesn't play or isn't effective, it will put more pressure on his replacement, Jarvis Green, and the linebackers.
In the Oct. 31 game, the Steelers rushed for 221 yards, the most allowed by the Patriots this season. Staley carried 25 times for 125 yards, Bettis 15 for 65.
''Guys were clawing to make a play that wasn't there,'' Colvin said. ''Guys being out of position. Like myself.''
''As bad as it was,'' Bruschi said, ''you've still got to watch (the game tape) to see what happened."

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