Where's Antwaan?

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Everyone likes to talk about the Steelers top three receivers and lay out the claim that they are the best trio in the NFL. <br><br> But more and more, that threesome has become a dynamic duo as Antwaan Randle El has been a no-show for much of the team's first two games.

Coming off a season in which they accounted for 2,654 yards and 19 touchdowns, wide receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress have become an even bigger part of the team's offense this season, already rolling up 473 total yards and three scores. The two have accounted for nearly 66 percent of the team's 719 yards this season, compared to 47 percent a year ago. And you can bet that opponents are taking notice of the Steelers' dependence on Ward and Burress.

Randle El certainly has.

"We're going to need a third option and sometimes we're going to need a fourth option," said Randle El. "Plax and Hines have been big in the first two games, but teams just aren't going to let you go out and do that. They're going to double team them. That's where I come in."

Sunday's 41-20 loss at Kansas City marked just the third time since he joined the Steelers last year that he has not attempted a pass or had a rushing attempt in a game; the Steelers have lost two of those three games, beating Jacksonville 25-23, while losing at Tennessee during the regular season, 31-23.

And it's only matter of time before an opponent double-team's both Ward and Burress, meaning the Steelers will need to get their anemic running game going behind Amos Zereoue, or count on Randle El or tight end Jay Riemersma to pick up the slack.

"I'm pretty sure at some point that teams will try to take Plax and myself out of a game and we'll need someone else to come up with some plays," said Ward, whose 242 total yards this season - 237 receiving and five rushing - are the sixth-best total in the AFC.

That team could be the Cincinnati Bengals, who host the Steelers Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Playing against Ward and Burrress twice per season, the Bengals are well aware of how dangerous the duo can be. Burress had an eight-catch, 149-yard effort in a 34-7 win over Cincinnati last season, while Ward caught five passes for 125 yards and a score in the Bengals' 21 - 29 loss at Heinz Field last season.

Perhaps stopping the dynamic duo may not be as difficult as it would seem if the Steelers don't start running the ball more effectively.

The Steelers are averaging just 74 yards rushing per game, meaning Ward and Burress are averaging over three times per game what the running game is producing. And Randle El hasn't been close to the weapon he was last season, when he had 489 yards receiving, 134 rushing and another 45 passing yards. At this rate, he'll be hard-pressed to match those numbers, let alone surpass them.

Randle El has just four catches for 28 yards and three rushing attempts for minus-nine yards this season. He has been plagued by a few dropped passes during the preseason and into the regular season, including one pass in Sunday's 40-21 loss at Kansas City that glanced off his hands and was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

"It's hard to get going when you're not getting the touches," admitted Randle El.

"It's difficult when you're only getting a ball here and then you don't get another one for two more quarters. But I have to accept my role and if I get a chance to make a play, I've got to make it."

But with Ward and Burress dominating the offense, there just aren't many opportunities to go around. In fact, the total number of receptions by players other than Ward and Burress on the roster are the same amount Ward has this season - 18. Of course, those catches are spread among seven players, including Randle El.

Head coach Bill Cowher said not to read too much into that. "All we are trying to do is take what teams give us and this is how it has unfolded after two weeks," Cowher said.

Dale Lolley
Dale Lolley also writes for Washington Observer-Reporter

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