Team Notes: Pittsburgh

The Steelers have become the most balanced team in the AFC after three games. Pittsburgh's defense ranks first overall in the AFC and its offense ranks No. 2.<br><br> The Steelers' passing offense ranks first and their passing defense ranks first. Whether they can keep that up is another matter, but it's better than the No. 20 pass defense that could not stop Tennessee in the playoffs last season.

On Sunday, they get a chance to stop the Titans again, this time in Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis and coach Bill Cowher made some changes in the defense that wilted under the pass last season. They came up with a nickel package and they are playing Cover-2 to help their cornerbacks.

Now, Dewayne Washington and Chad Scott can play tighter coverage right off the snap, knowing they will get help from their safeties. Offenses are no longer having success merely by spreading things out and throwing the ball against Pittsburgh.

"We've been practicing against the spread all off-season and summer time," linebacker James Farrior said. "We know what to do and we know if teams are going to do it, we know how to play it."


--LB Kendrell Bell had his first two sacks of the season, both coming from his new right rush end spot in the dime defense. He had four sacks all last season.

--RB Jerome Bettis had 59 yards rushing in 1 1/2 quarters. Still, with just 80 yards he's off to the slowest three-game start of his career.

--TE Mark Bruener did not dress for the second time in three games. He is healthy, but behind starter Jay Riemersma and No. 2 Jerame Tuman.

--OG Alan Faneca knocked Bengals LB Adrian Ross flat on his back on one play and knocked the helmet clear off Ross' head on another in a graphically impressive display of blocking by the All-Pro.

--PR Antwaan Randle El has been disappointing. He has handled all the punt returns and averages 5.2 yards a return with a long of nine yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was excited just to get out there and make a big play, just get accustomed to doing things before this happened. I was just happy to go out there and play football." -- LB Joey Porter, who had a sack in his first game since being shot in the buttocks and thigh Aug. 31.


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Efficient, without many mistakes. QB Tommy Maddox spread the ball around a lot more. In the first two games it was virtually all Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward. Against the Bengals, eight different players caught a pass. Maddox was 21 of 34 for 240 yards, one TD to Ward, and one interception when WR Chris Doering ran the wrong way.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The total of 38 carries for 138 yards and a 3.6-yard average aren't impressive. But the way they did it was. When they had to run, they ran. Jerome Bettis didn't play until midway through the third quarter. He had 59 yards on 16 tough carries. He ran the ball six consecutive times for 23 yards to finish off one drive, including a 1-yard TD on fourth down. They also prevented the Bengals from getting one final crack at tying the game when they kept the ball the final 5:54 that included six consecutive running plays and a Tommy Maddox kneel-down to end the game.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Jon Kitna, who has given them problems in the past, was not much of a factor. He completed 16 of 24 for 157 yards, one TD, and one interception. The Steelers sacked him four times.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- They were never really tested, especially after Corey Dillon left the game for good with an injury near the end of the first half. The Bengals rushed 16 times for 57 yards and no touchdowns on the ground and Kitna was their second-leading rusher with two scrambles for 14 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- One play brought up their grade. They faked a 50-yard field goal when holder Tommy Maddox took the snap, stood up, and rifled a pass to tight end Jay Riemersma for a 23-yard gain and a first down that led to the Steelers' first touchdown. But Jeff Reed also missed a 24-yard field goal attempt and Peter Warrick set up a Bengals TD when he returned a punt 31 yards.

COACHING: B -- It looked like the old blood-and-guts Steelers football on Sunday, and that's just what many believed was in order for a team that seemed to be getting too far away from its roots: Running the ball and preventing the other team from doing it. It won't be like that every week, but it may go a long way in re-establishing the run as part of their arsenal.

Steel City Insider Top Stories