Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

The Pittsburgh Steelers, trying to shed their image as the Wet Toast Offense, will play a turn-back-the-clock game when they start Jerome Bettis at running back against the St. Louis Rams Sunday in Heinz Field. Hey

The grand experiment of the high-wire act failed, so Coach Bill Cowher has ordered offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to return to the team's fabled roots -- a power running game behind a guy called The Bus.

The Steelers had slipped to 28th in the league in rushing; they never finished lower than 18th since the NFL merger in 1970. Their 500 yards rushing is on pace for 1,333, less than half the 2,774 yards rushing they amassed in 2001. The team's record low of 1,092 was set during the 14-game 1966 season.

Their passing game, ranked 8th in the NFL, has been rendered impotent around the goal line. They rank fourth-from last in the NFL in scoring touchdowns once they reach the red zone. Plaxico Burress has just one touchdown catch and they virtually ignore their 6-5 1/2 receiver in the end zone.

It may be no different with Bettis in the backfield, but some of his teammates believe his presence will boost morale and send a signal that the Steelers are serious about trying to run. Another player noted that defenses no longer would play cover-2 against them with a heavy dose of Bettis because they will have to bring one of those deep safeties into the box to help stop him. That, he said, should help open up the deep passing game.

Cowher did not make a big deal out of the move publicly. In fact, he downplayed it.

"This is not about one player," Cowher said. "This is not about one guy being put in to give us a spark. Jerome has played in all the games, and Amos has played in all the games. So, this is not about one player. This is about making a line-up change. Right now, we just have to play better as a football team."

Cowher, though, tipped his hand when he said that "we are in the little bit of flux with the offensive line and the status of our running game. I think the way Jerome has run, it is more conducive to the power running style he has right now."

The Steelers need to do something, fast, because they have lost three in a row and are 2-4, their worst six-game start since 1988. This was a team that was among the favorites in the AFC and a runaway favorite to win the AFC North Division.

The heat is beginning to come down on the coaching staff, particularly Cowher and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, whose stock as a head coach is sinking fast. Mularkey turned down an opportunity to coach the Cincinnati Bengals last season and was a candidate in Jacksonville. But his offense has taken major steps backward after being the darling in Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2002.

Cowher has two years to run on his contract and he's in total control in Pittsburgh because director of football Kevin Colbert agrees to virtually his every demand. If the Steelers go in the tank, it will be more than interesting to watch the off-season moves and non-moves in the front office.

The Rooneys paid a lot of money to keep this team together at Cowher's urging, and they were led to believe it was a championship team, not one tied for the same record as the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals. They look at what Bill Parcells has done with a lot less talent in Dallas and wonder what is going on with their supposedly superior Steelers.

SERIES HISTORY: 25th meeting, including one in Super Bowl XIV, won by the Steelers 31-19. The Steelers are 6-16-2 overall against the Rams, 1-1 under Coach Bill Cowher. They last played in 1996 in Three Rivers Stadium, a game the Steelers won 42-6. The Rams last won in Pittsburgh in 1971.


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