Steelers still developing offensive persona

Wednesday, September 23, 2009
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Wide receiver Hines Ward has insisted that the Steelers are a running team.

The statistics, at least through the first two games, suggest otherwise.

The Steelers have run the ball only 37 percent of the time this season. That is a stark contrast to the past two times they won the Super Bowl.

Through the first two games last season, the Steelers ran the ball 65 percent of the time. Over the same span in 2005, they went to the ground 70 percent of the time.

Coach Mike Tomlin, however, made it clear Tuesday that he doesn't care about such statistical breakdowns even though the Steelers have long prided themselves on imposing their will on opponents.

Tomlin said he isn't concerned about style points as much as he is with the ones on the scoreboard -- no matter how the Steelers get them.

"I think that the great teams are capable of winning in many forms and fashions, playing to your strengths on a week-to-week basis based on the matchup," Tomlin said at his weekly news conference. "I thought a great deal about that this offseason. You study a team like New England and you watch them walk into a stadium offensively week to week and they can be whatever they choose to be.

"They can beat you with four wide(outs), three wide(outs), three tight ends, and it makes them very difficult to prepare for and ultimately beat. We want to kind of create that persona."

If the first two games are any indication, the Steelers have a ways to go to accomplish that.

They have managed just three touchdowns in eight-plus quarters, and the running game remains under intense scrutiny.

The Steelers did make strides in that area against the Chicago Bears, as they averaged 4.8 rushing yards on 22 carries. They also had four runs of at least 12 yards, including a 39-yard burst by Rashard Mendenhall.

That set up a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"I think that was one of the upsides," starting right tackle Willie Colon said of the game last Sunday, "we gashed them a little bit."

The Steelers rank 28th out of the NFL's 32 teams in rushing yards, and they could face a stern test this weekend in Cincinnati. The Bengals' defense is ranked 11th against the rush, allowing 164 yards in two games.

When asked about the running game yesterday, Tomlin said, "I wasn't pleased (with it) because we didn't win, and ultimately that's always going to be the approach that I take. I think the longer that I have this job I'm less concerned about storylines and I'm more concerned simply about winning."

Tomlin conceded that teams must have balance offensively. He also said running the ball effectively and stopping the run are hallmarks of teams that win consistently.

The Steelers have done well in the latter area, limiting opponents to just 3 yards per carry.

Whether they will consistently run the ball remains to be seen.

The Steelers still seem to be searching for an identity on offense. And they may be at odds over whether they have morphed into a team that uses the pass to set up the run, not vice versa.

"I think two weeks in it's too early to place a persona on anyone," Tomlin said. "I think over time it will become obvious what we are, and we're not interested in giving anyone a head's up."

Jeff Reed, who missed two field goals in the fourth quarter of a 17-14 loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday:

"I'm extremely confident that he's capable of doing the job and doing it at a high level. I think we carried him off the field the week before. That's the story of the National Football League, isn't it? He's a professional, and I know that he is. He'll bounce back."

Whether a 39-yard run and 13-yard reception Rashard Mendenhall had last Sunday will provide a boost to his confidence:

"I really don't believe he's lacking confidence at this point. He got an opportunity to play and he delivered, which is what we expected him to do and really what I think he expects to do. I think as we continue on he's going to get more of those opportunities and he better produce more of those plays."

James Harrison, who doesn't have a sack after setting a Steelers' single-season record with 16 in 2008:

"I'm not ready at this point to consider that a trend. We've just played two games. He's applied some pressure. He hasn't gotten a sack yet. Maybe he'll change that this weekend."

His thoughts after watching film of the Steelers' loss to the Bears:

"I feel the same today as I did (after the game). I thought our guys played extremely hard. I thought they played a physical brand of football and they made some plays. I just think Chicago made more significant plays in significant moments if you will in that area of the game that we call situational football. They made plays at the end of halves and we weren't able to get off the field, particularly on third-down football."