Cowher's decision an easy one

<b>LATROBE -</b> Even though Jerome Bettis has worked very hard to have less of a gut coming into this season, it was a gut that was the deciding factor in head coach Bill Cowher naming Amos Zereoue the Steelers' starting running back this season. <br><br>But the gut in question does not belong to Bettis. It was Cowher's.

Cowher's gut decision to replace Jerome Bettis and Mark Bruener in the starting lineup with Amos Zereoue and Jay Riemersma could not have been an easy one for him.

But in today's NFL, where you're only as good as your last play, it was a move that had to be made.

While the Steelers' coaching staff has protested throughout the offseason the fact that they are now a passing team, Cowher's announcement Wednesday that he is going with Zereoue and Riemersma begs to differ.

Zereoue and Riemersma give the Steelers two more options in the passing game to go along with receivers Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El.

That's five proven weapons opponents will have to game plan for, all of whom are capable of hurting a team.

It shows the direction the game is now going.

The days of power football are history. Heck, the NFL's top six leading rushers last season played for non-playoff qualifiers.

As much as it probably pains Cowher to admit it, the style of football he prefers - eating up yardage four yards at a time – is passé.

And it's a style of football the Steelers simply cannot play right now. They don't have the players to pull it off.

Everything is about offense now and putting points on the board quickly. And that is the kind of offense the Steelers will have with the addition of Riemersma and Zereoue on the field.

This is not to say that Bettis and Bruener won't have a place on this team.

With the state of the team's offensive line, Bruener could be called upon often as an extra blocker. And Bettis will get the majority of carries in short-yardage and goal-line situations and as an occasional change-of-pace.

It will be a different situation for both men and one that will likely be difficult for them to adjust to.

In fact, it's likely that only Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala's hamstring injury last Saturday saved Bettis' job.

He's scheduled to make a base salary of $2.75 million this season and has four years remaining on his contract. That's a lot of money to pay a guy who will likely only get 10 or so carries per game.

But Fuamatu-Ma'afala can't be trusted to stay healthy and Cowher would not want to go into the season with only promising youngsters Verron Haynes and Dante Brown backing up Zereoue. That's just not in his nature to go into a season with that much unproven talent, especially at a position as important as running back.

Dale Lolley

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