On the Steelers: It will be hard to pass on passing game


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Hines Ward has a way with words sometimes that, strung together, often creates unique phrases.

His description of the passing fancy Thursday night by the Steelers: "It's a little spark boost."

Indeed, and the Steelers may need even more of that when they go to Chicago to play the Bears Sunday. Granted, teams change from season to season, but the Bears' defense ranked fifth in the NFL against the run last season, and 30th against the pass.

That could play right into the Steelers' hands, coming off a game in which Ben Roethlisberger passed for 363 yards and his ground game provided just 36 yards against Tennessee.

The Titans also throw up a pretty good run defense -- they ranked sixth in the league last season -- and the Steelers' ground game has nowhere to go but up. But it could be a few games before they work out the details of just how to improve, if they can, and there's no evidence from Thursday night that they can put it all together against another good run defense Sunday.

Plus, who says you have to run the ball to win?

Dial up the 1995 season, when the Steelers won the AFC and lost to Dallas in the Super Bowl. They set their passing record that season with 4,093 yards gross, 3,917 net. They averaged 244.8 yards passing that season against 115.8 rushing, just 10 yards more per game than they rushed last season. That season, they ranked eighth in the NFL passing, 12th rushing.

It's one of only three times since 1981 they've ranked in the top 10 in the league in passing. The others came in 2002 (seventh) and 2006 (ninth), both playoff seasons.

So even the Steelers, who have a history of preferring the rugged ground game, have shown you can win with a better passing game.

Why not now?

"No, we won't," Ward said. "We're going to try to run the ball ...

"For us to sit back and sling it? I've been here when we slung it.

"You guys complain, 'Well it's not typical Steelers football. It is Steelers football.' We're going to continue to try to run. If we can't run, we got to make plays in the passing game, try to set up the run game up with the pass.

"For us to sling it 40, 50 times, it's not going to happen. We have two great running backs. It's just a matter of working at it, because when the weather gets bad, we're going to depend on those guys."

Maybe they would be better off depending on Roethlisberger, Ward, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller and Mike Wallace/Limas Sweed than ramming Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall into walls without holes.

That passing game produced historic numbers Thursday night. To wit:

• Roethlisberger's 363 yards were the third-most in his career and seventh-highest in team history.

• His 33 completions are tied for third-highest in team history (he holds the record with 38), and the second-most in his career.

• He completed 33 of 43 passes for 76.7 percent, 1.1 percent from making the team's top 10 in completion percentage.

• Roethlisberger's 12 consecutive pass completions over the third and fourth quarters rank fourth in team history (he and Bubby Brister share the record with 15).

• Holmes and Ward became the first two Steelers receivers to top 100 yards in the same game since Ward and Antwaan Randle El did it in 2004 against the New York Giants.

Coupled with what Roethlisberger did on that final drive in the Super Bowl, perhaps it's time not only for the Steelers to lean more on the pass, but to use the no-huddle more often to do so.

"We usually use the no-huddle to change the tempo, try to change things up, get things going," Ward said. "It gave us a spark."

That spark could light a fire under the Steelers' offense that the running game just does not appear up to doing.


For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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