Wednesday Apple Pie

This season, Bill Cowher is going to try to sell you the idea that rotating RB's Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue in the backfield will work to perfection.<br><br> He'll tell you that this system will enable Bettis to remain fresh on his 30+ year-old legs deep into January.<br><br>

He'll also tell you that the change-up between Bettis and Zereoue will cause problems for defenses.

That's a great idea. Too bad it won't work.

The reason this "scheme" won't work is that Jerome Bettis, like other power backs, gets stronger the more times he's handed the ball. In fact, Bettis produces the most yardage when he averages 20+ carries a game.

Rotating Amos Zereoue with Bettis, like last season, will take away from Bettis' carries. In fact, the offensive scheme that will revolve around the passing attack of Tommy Maddox will cripple his carry total. Couple the facts that Bettis does not play in long yardage situations and in the 2 minute drill, and his touches will further dwindle.

Bettis' production is closely linked with the number of carries he receives in a game. In fact, since 2000 he's only twice run for over 100 yards a game on less than 20 carries.

Looking closely at Bettis' situation, the facts are striking and resounding. Since the 2000 season (not including playoffs), Bettis has had 20 carries a game 20 times, and he averaged 114.7 yards rushing each of those games with 4.16 yards per carry.

Compare that to games where he doesn't carry over 20 times. In those 19 games, he's averaged 48.02 yards with 3.66 yards per carry.

This problem makes some folks wonder how Bettis will be effective in the Steelers' new offensive philosophy. The answer is simple: He won't.

The question facing Cowher and Mike Mularkey is "How often do we let Bettis run into a wall of defenders to keep him happy?" Bettis makes way too much money to not be considered the feature back, and most assuredly he won't be back next season, but how many carries does he get this season after Zereoue and Maddox?

The thinking in some quarters is that Bettis will slowly be phased into the offense. We won't see much of him in the early weeks compared to other seasons but, pending his health, Bettis may once again eclipse the 20+ carries a game mark in November and December.

The problem with this thinking is that one assumes Bettis is a good fit for the new Pittsburgh offense. In fact, he does fit with the idea of spreading out a defense and then ramming a mack truck down the defense's throat. It's appealing and could be quite successful.

But, this would also mean that Bettis would be forced to play more single back sets to allow for a tight-end in a 3-reciever set. He would also have to be mixed into third down conversions more often so that opposing defenses wouldn't be anticipating him on first and second downs.

Herein resides the paradox. Bettis, to be successful, needs to play on 3rd down and long and 3+ receiver sets more often. But, these are exactly the two prime examples of when not to conventionally use Bettis.

This all points toward the inevitable shift of Amos Zereoue to feature back and Jerome Bettis to short-yardage specialist. Whatever you hear this summer, don't let it fool you into believing that Jerome Bettis is the feature back on this team any longer. It may have worked in the past, but this is not your father's Pittsburgh Steelers.

John Biles

Steel City Insider Top Stories