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SPORTS / STEELERS & NFL
Steelers' offense will come to passThursday, October 02, 2008 By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger: No 200-yard games yet? Just you watch Sunday night in Jacksonville.
Out of cash? Use the credit card. Snow blower down? Shovel. No flights available? Drive.
Your top running backs injured? Throw the ball.
It does not take a football genius to decipher what the Steelers have to do on offense Sunday night in Jacksonville without Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Carey Davis.
"Shoot, when you lose your starting running back, you lose your first-round running back, you lose your starting fullback/running back?" Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes asked out loud yesterday. "I mean, what else is there for you to do? You can only throw the ball and hope someone comes in and fills in, like Mewelde did."
Mewelde Moore, the only healthy running back left on the roster early Tuesday morning, has been supplemented by the return of Najeh Davenport and Gary Russell this week. Since a badly hobbling Davis does not appear ready to return this week, tight end Sean McHugh will replace him when they need a fullback.
Ben Roethlisberger does not have a 200-yard passing game this season, and, if he does not after five games, it won't be for a lack of trying.
"As receivers, that's what you ask for," Hines Ward said. "You don't get too many opportunities around here anyway, so, to be put in a position where you have to make plays in the passing game, I think we're more than capable and have the weapons to go out and do that."
Jacksonville, traditionally, is difficult to run on anyway. The Jaguars rank 14th in the NFL against the run, 24th against the pass. All three Steelers touchdowns in a 29-22 loss to Jacksonville Dec. 16 were passes. Roethlisberger then completed 29 of 42 passes for 337 yards in the Steelers' 31-29 loss to the Jaguars in their playoff game Jan. 5.
"Look back on our last two games against them, we had success passing the ball," Ward noted. "In the playoffs, we went to the hurry-up and the spread, and it really got us back in the game. Hopefully, we can learn from that and maybe exploit some things there."
The no-huddle produced the only touchdown on offense in the Steelers' 23-20 overtime victory against Baltimore in Heinz Field Monday night. Roethlisberger threw a 38-yard scoring pass to Holmes in the third quarter.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger lobbied for the no-huddle. The Steelers have talked a good game about their no-huddle, but it's not an offense they use often.
Game: Steelers (3-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2). When: 8:15 p.m. Sunday. TV: WPXI. Of note: xxx
Page 1 of 2Steelers' offense will come to pass
"You have to just pick your spots," Ward said. "We haven't been working on it all year. We have it in our thing and we bring it out when we need a change of pace. That's why we go to the hurry-up. When we feel like we have to start changing the tempo, to speed it up, we'll bring it up."
Roethlisberger, the lobbyist, shrugged about the chances the Steelers will use more of the no-huddle in Jacksonville.
"We'll see. It depends on how we're playing. It's a change of pace for us. It's worked well for us in the past."
Ward, Holmes and others don't believe the Steelers will switch overnight to a new offensive philosophy.
"I've been here when we were a passing team," Ward said, recalling the 2002 and '03 seasons, when Tommy Maddox was at the helm. "When we passed, we were putting up points and putting up things and everybody said we need to get back to running the ball."
The Steelers geared their offenses to their newfound passing game in '03, and they finished 6-10, tied for Bill Cowher's worst record. They emphatically returned to the run in 2004 and went 15-1.
"We're not going to abandon ship on the run game," Ward said. "We have to go out there and run the ball and control the time of possession."
"This team," offensive tackle Willie Colon said, "has to be balanced.
"We have a great quarterback in Ben and receivers. But, if we try to be the [Indianapolis] Colts out of the blue, we're going into a rut."
It may not be in their ancestry to turn into a passing team, but sometimes things call for a Plan B.
As Colon put it, "We have to just kind of let the wheels off and just fly."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published on October 2, 2008 at 12:00 am
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SPORTS / STEELERS & NFL
Steelers Notebook: No fanfare for Roethlisberger's 100th career touchdown pass Thursday, October 02, 2008 By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Jeff Reed, left, shows Baltimore's Ed Reed how close his winning kick in overtime was to the upright. The kick helped Reed earn AFC special teams player of the week.
Ben Roethlisberger threw his 100th touchdown pass Monday night with little fanfare.
Actually, it was with no fanfare.
The ball that Santonio Holmes caught and turned into a game-changing, 38-yard touchdown reception did not go to Big Benbut to Santonio's mom.
"He didn't say anything to me," Holmes said. "If he said something to me, I'd give it to him."
Surely, Big Ben would not deprive Santonio's mom of her game ball. Anyway, as Holmes said, "There will be a million more of those."
Maybe not quite that many. Roethlisberger's total includes 88 touchdown passes in the regular season and 12 more in the playoffs. He already ranks second in franchise history behind Terry Bradshaw's 212 scoring tosses in the regular season, 242 including postseason.
Some pointers, please
Byron Leftwich spent four seasons as Jacksonville's starting quarterback until they released him after training camp in 2007. As Roethlisberger's backup, he could supply the Steelers with some counterintelligence this week.
"I can't tell them anything they don't already know," Leftwich protested. "Pittsburgh and the Jaguars have been playing each other every year now."
Perhaps, but it hasn't stopped Roethlisberger from pumping his backup for information about the Jaguars.
"The whole first meeting I was talking to him about who he knows, what he knows and little tidbits about each guy," Roethlisberger said. "It's a big help to have him here."
Reed is honored
Jeff Reed has never made a Pro Bowl, but the Steelers' kicker has been Pro Bowl-caliber for a number of years. Last season, he missed only two field-goal tries -- one from 65 yards in Denver and the other from 44 yards in the muck at Heinz Field against Miami.
Page 1 of 2Steelers Notebook: No fanfare for Roethlisberger's 100th career touchdown pass
Monday night, he made all three field-goal attempts, including the 46-yard winner in overtime to beat Baltimore, 23-20. Yesterday, the Steelers' special teams captain was named AFC special teams player of the week.
He has made all seven of his field-goal tries this year.
"You look at the stats around the league, it's like nobody misses," Reed said. "If you miss a few, you finish under 80 percent, you're like in the bottom five of the NFL."
Reed, though, does not get much chance to kick in a dome or warm weather in November and December, especially this season when the Steelers play every game outdoors and have no warm-weather games scheduled those two months.
"It's not going to get any easier," Reed said. "The weather and the field only get a little worse at home."
The Steelers' kick-coverage teams have improved noticeably through four games, although coach Mike Tomlin hoped no one would notice.
"Don't say that," Tomlin pleaded. "Keep tearing it down, baby. We're working at it."
They must work a little harder this week because the Jaguars feature rookie Brian Witherspoon, who averages 29.7 yards on kickoff returns, 15.8 yards on punt returns and was timed at under 4.2 in the 40. The Steelers have permitted an average of just 19.4 yards on kickoff returns and 5.2 yards on punt returns.
"They're doing a nice job," Tomlin finally conceded of his coverage teams, "but we've got a tall challenge this week in the name of that young man, Witherspoon."
The Steelers officially signed running back Gary Russell from their practice squad to the 53-man roster. They released safety Grant Mason from their practice squad and added two to that unit, re-signing guard Doug Legursky and defensive end Jordan Reffett, who spent training camp with the Steelers.
Tomlin went easier on his team in practice yesterday because they played Monday night. They wore shells, practice was 15 minutes shorter and a host of players were held out: Roethlisberger (right shoulder), safety Troy Polamalu (thigh), linebacker James Harrison (thigh), running back Carey Davis (ankle), defensive end Nick Eason (groin), linebacker Patrick Bailey (hamstring), linebacker Keyaron Fox (back), linebacker Andre Frazier (concussion), and two veterans given the day off, offensive tackle Marvel Smith and wide receiver Hines Ward. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes (neck) was limited in practice.
First up, Stapleton
Darnell Stapleton drew first blood in practice in his competition with Trai Essex to start at right guard and replace injured Kendall Simmons, who is out for the season. This week's starter could be next w