Ground to a Halt

The Steelers rushing attack has disappeared. Can the Browns keep it from returning? Stop laughing!

The Steelers have a rather large Achilles heel as they wait for their first playoff game Jan. 10-11 at Heinz Field, and everyone knows what it is.

The vaunted Steelers ground game has been grounded. They rank 24th in the NFL and are falling. Over the past three games Willie Parker has 101 yards and a 2.3-yard average per carry. Their running backs (not counting QB and WR) as a whole have managed only 174 yards during that time on 64 carries.

This will be their second-lowest ranking in the NFL on the ground since they joined the AFC in the league merger of 1970. Their lowest was 31st when they changed their offense to a more West Coast style and it crashed into a 6-10 season.

Pittsburgh would like to use the Browns on Sunday to try to get something going on the ground. Cleveland's run defense ranks 29th in the NFL.

The Steelers long have talked about leaning on their ground game late in the season, but they've done the opposite this year and it's become a major topic in Pittsburgh as they enter the playoffs with the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

"I am concerned about it," coach Mike Tomlin said. "My concern is solely based upon one thing, and that is winning. I think that with an effective running game, it increases our chances of winning. Therein lies my concern."

That is why he hopes to get some kind of rhythm going against the Browns, in hopes it might have some carryover effect two weeks hence.

"Do we need to get hot in the running game? Absolutely," Tomlin said. "We need to get hot as a football team in general if we are going to march forward into January football. To me, that is what it is about. You can take any element of a football team, highlight it, and talk about how important it is to move on to the next step when you get into elimination football.

"From my perspective we need to be hitting on all cylinders, and need to be playing well in all areas to continue to do that."

Tomlin, though, did not give offensive coordinator Bruce Arians any kind of vote of confidence Tuesday when asked if he stood by him and what he has done in his two years on the job.

"It is so not the time to talk about that, truth-be-known," Tomlin said. "We are so focused on the men that we have in our circle, and winning, that I won't even dignify that with an answer. We are going to play the Cleveland Browns this week; after that we have a bye, and then we are getting ready for playoff football."

Parker went on record two weeks ago complaining about the philosophy of not using a fullback and deploying two tight ends near the line of scrimmage instead.

"I think that anybody that you talk about on our football team, in terms of what they are doing, it is a function of all of us collectively, players and coaches," Tomlin said. "(Parker's) production is among the examples. Would we like him to be having more success? Absolutely. But we all take ownership of that, players and coaches."

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