Arians: Appearances can deceive in Steelers' running game
January 1, 2009 5:00 AM
The Steelers' Willie Parker tries to grind out some distance as the Browns' D'Qwell Jackson works to slow him down in the first quarter Sunday.
By Robert Dvorchak Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Steelers came out in the I-formation and ground down the Browns with their running game, the appearance was that using a fullback finally re-established the run.
But those appearances can be deceiving, according to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who has been the favorite target of those believing that smash-mouth football was like an old acquaintance that had been forgotten.
"There was nothing new in that ballgame that we haven't done all season. It just appeared that way because of the lead and the score," Arians said.
But what about the 100-yard game by the rejuvenated Willie Parker sprung by the blocks of Sean McHugh?
"The success was not so much due to the I-formation. Willie's TD was the same touchdown run he had in the Super Bowl -- one back, the exact same play. The six or seven plays we ran out of the I, two of which worked, we've run them all year," he added.
Public opinion to the contrary, there was no loss of confidence in the running game, Arians said.
"Each game is different. Once we got a 14-point lead, there wasn't any sense in not taking the air out of the ball. We weren't playing Peyton Manning or Drew Brees or anybody else that puts points on the board. That dictates what you do also. If you run, run, run and punt, it's not going to matter. Whenever we've had double-digit leads, you're going to see 30 runs in the second half. We haven't had many of them," he said.
Yesterday was one of those days that lends appreciation to an indoor practice building. At various times during the day, there was lightning, thunder, snow, blustery winds and hazardous black ice. It was almost as if Father Time was throwing his snowshoes at the year gone by.
But it was also a time of transition from the old to the new, from the end of one year and the beginning of another, from the end of the regular season to preparation for the playoffs. In Roman mythology, the symbol of that transition was the two-headed god Janus, who could see ahead and look back at the same time and whose name lends itself to the month of January.
Fans of the Steelers look back to their glory days and think of running the football, especially in the playoffs when it's critical to control the clock and avoid turnovers. But the Steelers don't have a big back like Jerome Bettis, so it's prudent to look ahead to what they can look forward to.
And it is with a combination of amusement and annoyance that Arians fields questions about formations and game plans.
"That's football," Arians said. "It's different in Pittsburgh because people believe that if you run it 30 times you automatically win. I was here for the Super Bowl [as the receivers coach]. I think people forget that. I was in all those game plan meetings. We were out to score points, and get them as fast as we could, then see if we could run it. [Ben Roethlisberger] won for us offensively."
Some of the discussion about the running game has come from within. Parker described the performance as "a get-right game."
"We can run the football. It's just a matter of doing it," said Parker, who missed last January's playoff loss to Jacksonville with a broken leg.
The Steelers are 22-3 when Parker runs for 100 yards. And even when the Steelers struggled at times, no one on the offensive line lost confidence in their ability to run the ball.
"For everybody else on the outside looking through the looking glass, they said, oh, the running game is finally back," said Max Starks. "But it's always been there."
There would be no better time than the playoffs to showcase it.
"We've run the ball satisfactorily," Arians said. "Not great, but satisfactorily."
Looking ahead: The postseason begins
• Game: Steelers vs. Miami, San Diego or Indianapolis in an AFC divisional playoff game.