Mularkey sticks to his gun

<b> PITTSBURGH --</b> Through three-plus quarters of last Sunday's game, Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox was in pre-Arena League form. In other words, he was mediocre at best. Through three-plus quarters, Maddox completed 17 of 30 passes for 139 yards and the Steelers trailed by 16-6.

In the fourth quarter, of course, the Steelers had to pick up the pace, so Maddox went to the no-huddle approach and led the Steelers to 10 points in two drives by completing four of five passes for 87 yards.

It was the rat-a-tat-tat, Arena League approach at its finest. Quick reads, quick drops, quicker passes. It's what turned his career around. It's what works for Maddox.

"I think he does a great job with it," said offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. "It's been very successful for us the last couple years actually. That package has been pretty efficient." So, why not use it more often?

"That's not our identity. That's not what this offense is made up to be," Mularkey said. "It's just another package of a way of moving the ball. I still believe in running the football with two backs and two tight ends and throwing it when we need, or if needed, or to attack the defense. If it comes to that, than that's also available.

But it appears to be killing the quarterback. Maddox was a failure as a conventional drop-back quarterback. In four years, with three different teams, he compiled a passer rating of 47.8. But in bouncing to the Arena League, he learned how to play rapid-fire football. He seems to excel in that realm and fail when he drops further back to scan the field.

"I disagree," said Mularkey. "He did it last year when we went 5-step, 7-step, and he ran the no-huddle last year effectively. He ran everything else effectively, too."

Last season, Maddox set team records with a passer rating of 86.2 and a completion percentage of 62.4. This season, with the pass offense being used more conventionally, those numbers are 73.4 and 59.9, respectively.

Would Maddox like to run the no-huddle offense more often?

"I would like to do whatever it's going to take for us to win a football game," he said. "That's my way of thinking, if it's running the ball or if it's spreading it out and throwing the ball. "Obviously, I enjoy throwing it. There's no secret there. In the fourth quarter, when you're throwing it like that, you can get in a little bit of a rhythm and start completing passes and start watching those guys run with the football. It was enjoyable, but again, I don't care what we do, I just want to win football games."

That's the point. Wouldn't moving the ball better help the Steelers win more football games? "Yeah. Moving the football is a good thing," Maddox said with a laugh. "Yeah, some games it's going to take things like that to move the football and some games it might take other things. When we find out what's working we've got to stick with it and go."

So, one more time: Do you like to run the no-huddle offense?

"Yeah I do," Maddox said. "I've been fortunate with teams I've been on that it's been a big part of our offense. I think it's a big part of this offense. It's enjoyable to get out there and kind of feel like you've got the defense on their heels a little bit and trying to guess what you're going to do."

That's what happened in Seattle last Sunday. Maddox wasn't bothered by crowd noise as he called plays at the line and drove the Steelers to 10 quick points.

One problem, however, is that the Steelers can't quite spread their offense with the problems they're having on the offensive line. On the other side of the coin, they don't have the back or the line to run the ball consistently while reigning in their quarterback. It's almost to the point at which the square pegs are refusing to go further into the round holes.

Mularkey, though, doesn't see it that way.

"I think we're playing better. Each week we've gotten better," he said. "I think the guys are playing as about as hard as they've played since I've been here, even as a tight ends coach. I think it's remarkable with the adversity they're going though that they're playing as hard as they are. It's been disappointing that they haven't been rewarded for it, but I think they've gotten better with the makeup of the guys we've put in there on Sundays."

Is the mix ready to come together?

"I think we're very close," he said. "Very close."

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