Running on empty

<b>KANSAS CITY, Mo. – </b> The Steelers have made the transition from a running team to a passing team. <br><br>But they learned Sunday that passing alone is not enough. No matter how well you throw the football, sooner or later you're going to have to be able to run it as well.

Just as Pittsburgh needed to be able to throw the ball to keep opponents honest in year's past, the Steelers now need to find a way to run to keep opponents from teeing off on quarterback Tommy Maddox.

Maddox was beat up during a 41-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Once Kansas City figured out the Steelers couldn't run the ball effectively, the Chiefs began blitzing on nearly every play.

If it were just a one-game problem, that would be one thing. But the Steelers struggled moving the ball on the ground last week during a win over Baltimore. After two games, it is starting to look like a disturbing trend.

The Steelers gained 60 yards on 16 rushing attempts Sunday, but 37 of those yards came on a pair of runs by Amos Zereoue in the fourth quarter.

That gives them 148 yards on 50 rushing attempts in two games – less than three yards per carry. And in the first half Sunday, the Steelers picked up all of 13 yards on eight carries (1.6 yards per attempt).

That's just not going to get the job it done.

The offensive line and running backs are equal partners in the blame game. The line has been sporadic in opening holes, allowing the runners to be hit in the backfield too often. And the running backs – Zereoue in particular – could do a better job of picking holes and waiting for blocks to set up.

Zereoue is constantly looking for a big play, even when one isn't there. He would have been well served to watch Kansas City's Priest Holmes, who might be the most patient runner in the NFL. He waits for his blockers to get in position before cutting it up inside.

"We're going to have to run the ball better," said head coach Bill Cowher. "We can't just continue to count on 300-yard passing games to win. We've got to have balance, and right now we're not running the ball as effectively as we need to get to where we want to go."

Those 300-yard passing games are fun to watch. But at some point, you've got to be able to grind the other team into submission.

Five times Sunday the Steelers had situations of third down and three yards or less. All five times they threw the football. On a third-and-one play in the third quarter, they had receivers split wide and no running backs.

What in the name of Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis is going on here?

Either offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey doesn't have the confidence in the running game to be able to pick up two or three yards, or he's become totally enamored with the team's passing game.

At this point, either would be understandable.

The Steelers haven't run the ball well enough to garner any kind of confidence, and the passing game can produce yards in big chunks and quickly.

"No team that does nothing but pass the ball has ever won the Super Bowl," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "Even the Rams a couple of years ago had Marshall Faulk."

This team doesn't need Faulk, but it could use 100 yards on the ground.

Here are some other thoughts from a writer who's actually a little sad he won't get to visit the best stadium in the NFL again in the next decade:

© OK, maybe it won't be a decade before the Steelers go back to Arrowhead Stadium. In fact, the way the Chiefs are playing, they may go back there this year for the playoffs. That wouldn't be a good thing for the Steelers. That's a tough, tough place to play.

© The Steelers are now 2-for-6 in the red zone this season. Again, a running game would help that greatly.

© So would Plaxico Burress catching the ball cleanly in the end zone.

© Kansas City's offensive line might be the best in the league. Those guys can flat out block. Trent Green's uniform was still clean at the end of the game and Priest Holmes had running lanes all day long.

And did you see those big fellas getting out there on those sweeps? Ouch.

© I wrote on this very site last week that the Steelers needed Kendrell Bell to make one or two big plays per week to help make up for the loss of Joey Porter. He did it last week against Baltimore, intercepting a pass.

Against Kansas City, Bell was a non-factor. Three tackles against a team that ran the ball 35 times isn't going to get it done.

© Chris Doering has officially taken over the No. 4 receiver job from Lee Mays, just in case you're wondering.

© That's two games and two fumbles by Verron Haynes. That's not a good trend.

© Do you think Brian Billick regrets not giving Jamal Lewis more than nine carries against the Steelers in the first half of last week's game.

Lewis set a league rushing record Sunday and Holmes got 122 yards against the Steelers defense.

© That's the same Steelers defense that was supposed to be solid against the run.

Dale Lolley
Courtesy of the Washington Observer-Reporter

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