Missing run game already a worry to Steelers

Sep 14, 2009 - 10:46 PM By ALAN ROBINSON AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH(AP) -- With no game to play, Willie Parker spent Sunday watching the rest of the NFL's running backs. He saw Adrian Peterson pile up 180 yards, Mike Bell go for 143, Julius Jones run for 117.

The more yards Parker saw, the madder he got.

Soon after arriving at the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice complex on Monday, Parker and the offensive linemen sat down and asked themselves why they didn't run the ball like that against the Tennessee Titans.

"I had a long talk with our offensive line and I let them know I really cared about them and we really got this show back on the road," said Parker, who had 19 yards on 13 carries. "We've got to be the talk of the town."

The Steelers' 36 yards on 23 carries in their 13-10 overtime victory on Thursday were the fewest they've had in an opener since Baltimore limited them to 30 yards on 18 carries in 2000, when the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl.

The difference now is the Steelers are the reigning Super Bowl winners, and not being able to run the ball is a big deal to them.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Steelers have outrushed every other team in the league by more than 5,000 yards. In 601 games, the Steelers have rushed for 83,943 yards, an average of 139.7 per game. The Cowboys are second with 78,896 yards, or 131.3 per game.

Thirty-six yards? To Parker, who averaged 131 yards in his four previous opening day starts, that's a usually a nice run in the second quarter. Rashard Mendenhall, last year's first-round draft pick, had 6 yards on four carries.

The Steelers got off to a bad start offensively, managing only 1 yard in the first quarter, but they began moving the ball when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loosened up and started finding Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward downfield. Holmes finished with 131 yards receiving and Ward had 103 as the Steelers passed for 321 yards.

The running game never got out of neutral, and left tackle Max Starks thinks he knows why. Forced to continually adjust to the Titans' 4-3 defense, the line repeatedly changed its blocking scheme at the line of scrimmage while Roethlisberger was in his cadence, according to Starks.

The problem was one lineman read the pressure as coming from a certain defensive player, while another lineman expected it from someone else. Sometimes, that left two defenders with free passage to the backfield on the same play, Starks said.

"It has to get better," Starks said. "I think we've all got to get on the same page, and I think that was kind of the issue."

Tight end Heath Miller's blocking is a key to the running game, and he said the ineffectiveness can be blamed on more than going against what was the NFL's sixth-best rushing defense last season.

"We're going to have to fix our mistakes and get better from it," Miller said. "You're not going to go through a year and win football games if you can't run the football, that's proven year after year. We've got to get it going."

With the Bears (0-1) up next Sunday in Chicago - where the Steelers are 1-11 - the offense knows this isn't the time to be patient and wait for the running game to settle in. Coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians didn't hesitate to mention it on Monday, either.

"We definitely got coached up," Parker said. "We've got to bring it to the table this week."

Another reason for the Steelers to run the ball better: Historically, they have had some of their worst seasons when the running game was slow to develop early in the season. They were next to last in rushing while going 6-10 in 2003, only a year after they were No. 9 in rushing.

"Let's see if we can rectify our running game so it doesn't get to that point," Ward said. "We'll continue to try to run first and set up the passing game through the running game. That's the sign of a great offense. ... Even though we didn't run the ball, which we will rectify, it was encouraging that a lot of guys made plays in the passing game."






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