Ward: Jags shouldn't expect Steelers to air it out
The Associated Press
Published: October 3, 2008
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PITTSBURGH: No Willie Parker, no Rashard Mendenhall — and, even if they were healthy, no fullback to block for them.
Wide receiver Hines Ward knows what everybody suspects the beaten-up Pittsburgh Steelers will do Sunday night in Jacksonville without their top two running backs. Namely, ask Ben Roethlisberger to beat the Jaguars with his arm.
After all, what better situation for a $102 million quarterback to prove his value?
Ward doesn't think it will happen, and not only because Roethlisberger missed practice for the second day in a row Thursday because a sore right shoulder.
The Steelers, Ward said, will find a way to run the ball, even though third-down back Mewelde Moore becomes the starter by default this week. And he won't be lined up only for blocking purposes, despite the likely absence of fullback Carey Davis (sprained ankle).
"We're not going to abandon ship and say we're going to give up on the run because of some injuries," Ward said. "We're not going to do it. We never have."
Ward remembers how a brief flirtation with a pass-heavy offense, when Tommy Maddox was the quarterback, led to a 6-10 record in 2003 — and a rapid return the following season to a run-first philosophy.
"I've been here when we were a passing team, moving the ball and putting up points, and everybody said we needed to get back to running the ball," Ward said. "We're not going to go away from our identity."
Even if the backfield starters Sunday night for the third Steelers-Jaguars game since mid-December may be the only players standing.
Roethlisberger, who sustained a slightly separated shoulder three weeks ago against the Browns, hasn't practiced this week due to a tender shoulder. The Steelers (3-1) have a short turnaround after beating Baltimore 23-20 in overtime Monday night, and having one fewer day to heal isn't helping their numerous injured players.
"The short week is always tough, and we just went 12 rounds in a heavyweight fight," said Roethlisberger, who had eight games of 200 yards or more in passing last season but has yet to have one this season.
Tomlin remains optimistic Roethlisberger will play.
"Like in recent weeks, I think he's going to be fine, but we have all the confidence in the work of Byron Leftwich if that should happen as well," Tomlin said.
Leftwich, the former Jaguars starter, became Roethlisberger's backup seven weeks ago after Charlie Batch was lost for the season with a broken collarbone.
Given the Steelers' injury situation and their inability to slow the pass rush — Roethlisberger has been sacked 11 times in the last two games — the Jaguars might be expected to blitz more often than usual.
However, the Jaguars (2-2) prefer to bring pressure with their front four rather than with their linebackers, as the Steelers do, and they have been limited to five sacks in four games. Only five teams have fewer sacks.
"I don't see (coach) Jack Del Rio blitzing that much. But it is possible," said Leftwich, who played four seasons with Jacksonville before being released last year. "He likes his guys to make plays. They like to bring the front four and play coverage and allow the guys up front to get pressure that way. But they've never been a heavy blitz team."
The Jaguars appear to be blitzing even less with Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator. Last season, they had five sacks in a regular season game in Pittsburgh but none during a playoff game there less a month later.
"(There's) not quite as much blitzing, but potentially they are capable of doing that. ... There are some things that are new and different from a quarterback standpoint in terms of preparing for Jacksonville," Tomlin said.
The Steelers have lost their last four to Jacksonville, but three of the losses were in Pittsburgh. They have won two of their last three in Jacksonville.
Notes:@ Davis remained on crutches. If he can't go, TE Sean McHugh may be used as a fullback-type blocker. ... DE Nick Eason (groin) also may not play. ... Tomlin on newly re-signed RB Najeh Davenport: "He is in pretty good condition, but we all know there is a difference between physical condition and football condition." ... Darnell Stapleton, primarily the backup C, is running ahead of Trai Essex at RG with Kendall Simmons (ruptured Achilles) out for the season. Stapleton filled in after Simmons was hurt Monday. ... LB Andre Frazier (spine), carried off the field on a stretcher following the opening kickoff Monday, has practiced both days this week.