Steelers offense warming up to task
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It's not just that the Steelers have scored 89 points in the past three games, their most productive three-game output of the season. Or that they feel as though they left at least 18 points on the field against the Baltimore Ravens because of dropped passes and were on the verge of a blowout against the NFL's No. 2 defense.
Some of the players are encouraged by another factor that could lead to an unencumbered performance by the offense when the Steelers play the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII next Sunday in Tampa, Fla.
It will be the first time in nearly three months they will play a game where it isn't snowing and temperature will be above 48 degrees.
"When the hot weather comes, I'm like a kid in the candy store," said wide receiver Nate Washington. "You get excited to go out and play in hot weather."
"It makes a ton of difference," Hines Ward sad. "You feel good playing in nice weather."
The Steelers have had little of that, especially in the past seven games, beginning with the freezing rain Nov. 30 in New England, a game in which they scored 33 points.
Since then, the warmest game-time temperature in which they played was Dec. 14 in Baltimore, when it was 45 degrees. They played in 8-degree wind chill at home against Dallas, 19-degree wind chill in Tennessee, 48 degrees with 22 mph winds at home against Cleveland, 26 degrees and snow in a playoff victory against San Diego and 26 degrees and light snow last week against the Ravens.
The last time the Steelers played when it was above 48 degrees was Nov. 3 in Washington, when the game-time temperature was 51.
"It gives the offense an advantage," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who has scored on touchdowns of 67 and 65 yards in two playoff games. "When you have great field conditions, your mind-set is totally different. When you're playing under duress from the weather, coaches start thinking different, players play different. It can have a different outcome on the game."
"Cold weather takes a toll on your whole body," Washington said. "When I go play in cold weather, I'm thinking more about my assignments, making sure I get the little things right."
Certainly, the Steelers have not let the biting cold and snowy conditions slow their scoring lately. They scored 31 in the regular-season finale against the Browns, 35 against the Chargers in the divisional playoff and 23 against the Ravens, a game in which dropped passes by Holmes, Willie Parker and Limas Sweed cost them touchdowns.
Holmes also said he would have scored on a 50-yard touchdown near the end of the first half on a slant play in which the ball thrown by Ben Roethlisberger was slightly behind him. That occurred on the drive in which the Steelers failed to kick a field goal because time expired.
"That really should have been a blowout game," Washington said. "But it is what it is."
The Steelers are hoping the warmer temperatures in Florida will be an additional panacea for their offense.
Figuratively, and literally, taking off the wraps, if you will.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to go out there and guys can utilize the football skills they have," said Ward, who expects to play despite a sprained knee that kept him out of the second half against the Ravens. "When you're playing in wind and snow, it's really hard to throw and catch. You have to factor that in.
"You see guys who play in domes or down South in good weather, they put up huge numbers. You rarely see guys playing in snowy conditions going out there and putting 1,400 [receiving] yards up in the snow.
"You look at all the wideouts leading the charts; they're playing in mostly nice weather or predominantly domes. You look at guys playing outdoors in the north, when you're putting up 1,200 or 1,300 yards in these weather conditions, then you're having a great year."
Ward, who had his fifth 1,000-yard receiving season, has a point.
The top five receiving yardage leaders in the NFL -- Houston's Andre Johnson, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Carolina's Steve Smith, Atlanta's Roddy White and Detroit's Calvin Johnson -- play in warm-weather climates or domes. Among the top 10 yardage leaders, the only exceptions are Green Bay's Greg Jennings, Denver's Brandon Marshall and New England's Wes Welker.
That's why Ward and his offensive mates are eager to play in warm weather -- or, at least, weather warmer than they have experienced the past three months. They think it will be beneficial for their offensive performance.
Most of them, anyway.
"I don't know if it makes a difference," said Parker, who was held to 47 yards on 24 carries against the Ravens. "We're professionals. Whatever the weather is, we're going to go out and play. We love to play in nice weather, but we'll have to wait and see."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Jan. 25, 2009) This story as originally published Jan. 24, 2009 incorrectly atttributed 89 points to the Steelers' offense in the last three games played by the team as of that date. The points were scored by the team as a whole, not just the offense.
First Published January 24, 2009 12:00 am