Was he exaggerating to make a point about Faneca?">
Was he exaggerating to make a point about Faneca?">

Faneca: Bull on parade

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b> Alan Faneca didn't become the third offensive lineman to ever win an Offensive Player of the Week award yesterday, but he did win plenty of praise from his teammates and coaches. <br><br> It began Tuesday, when Steelers Coach Bill Cowher nominated Faneca for the award, and at his televised press conference said "I have never seen a game by an offensive lineman any better than that." <br><br> Was he exaggerating to make a point about Faneca?

"No. He had a good game," said line coach Russ Grimm. "He's had good games before, I mean, real good games. But when you get the big hits, it kind of makes it stand out a little more."

The "big hits" were fourth-quarter blasts on Cincinnati linebacker Adrian Ross that a.) knocked Ross's helmet off as his head snapped back, and b.) flattened Ross.

The first, a pull around the left side on a zone play, resulted in a seven-yard gain for Jerome Bettis. The second, a pull to the right side on a counter power play, resulted in a six-yard gain for Bettis.

"I remember them because the helmet came off in my path," said Bettis. "On that particular block, I read him as to whether I go outside him or inside him. So I actually saw him knock the helmet off the guy. That was crazy."

Did anyone say anything in the huddle?

"Nobody really said much," Bettis said. "We were in the zone as far as grinding. We really didn't grasp the gravity of it, and it was huge. We got a chance to see it on film and it was amazing. You heard the `whoas' and the tape machine kept rewinding and you look at his head pop back. It was a serious hit."

How serious?

"That hit on Adrian Ross was incredible," said former Steelers guard and current radio analyst Craig Wolfley. "Ross is going to send him a jersey that says 'He Hate Me' on the back because he must think He Hate Me after the way Alan lit him up."

Faneca, of course, is one of the more laid-back Steelers, more than likely a product of his Louisiana upbringing. So it wasn't difficult to gauge his reaction to the high praise coming from all quarters.

"It's great to hear," he said. "Positive reinforcement's good, I guess, but that's last week and this is this week."

This week, the Steelers will face the No. 1 run defense in the NFL when they host the Tennessee Titans. Obviously, the running lanes won't be so easy to find, nor the linebackers so easy to steamroll.

"Their front seven has always been great and has always been the strength of their team. They go for size and speed," Faneca said. "They're all getting to the ball. It's not two or three guys making a tackle. There are two or three guys making a tackle with five other guys running in there to get a hit. That's the way they play the game. That's a good approach.

"It's the talent up front. They do give several alternate looks, probably two or three things the whole game, but they rely hard on their base defense, one against one, you win the battle."

The Titans held last season's NFC rushing leader, Deuce McAllister, to 11 yards on eight carries last Sunday, but the Steelers' line might be up for the challenge. Last year, the Steelers didn't gain more than 100 yards rushing until the fourth game. The 2-1 Steelers gained 138 yards on 38 carries last week

"They're getting a little better feel for each other," Grimm said of his line. "They've played beside each other a couple weeks. Kendall (Simmons) has got a couple weeks under his belt and he's getting better. It's just like a season. You want to keep things gradually going forward and that's the toughest thing to do in the NFL is to remain consistent throughout. That's what separates the good teams from the bad ones."

And the rock-ribbed hits in the open field separate the good linemen from the bad. Is Faneca the best guard in the game?

"If he's not the best, he's one of them," said Grimm, a former All-Pro guard himself.

"Oh, he's way better than I was," Grimm said of Faneca. "I had some good years. I was 6-3, 285. He's sitting at 6-5, 310, 311, can run. He's bigger, stronger. When you get into comparisons like that, I don't think it's close. I think he's a good player."

Jim Wexell

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