Rod Woodson, who's been around, seen some things, could only say of their upcoming opponent, "I guess the Jets are going to the Super Bowl."">
Rod Woodson, who's been around, seen some things, could only say of their upcoming opponent, "I guess the Jets are going to the Super Bowl."">

Steelers-Cards Game Advance

<b> PITTSBURGH - </b> After the Detroit Lions beat the defending AFC champion Oakland Raiders last week, Raiders Coach Bill Callahan raised a few eyebrows by saying that the 2-6 Lions were "a hell of a club." <br><br> Rod Woodson, who's been around, seen some things, could only say of their upcoming opponent, "I guess the Jets are going to the Super Bowl."

It was just the right touch of sarcasm from the cagey veteran, but really, he may not be too far away from the truth.

Take a look around the league. Last year's Super Bowl teams are a combined 6-10 and all 12 of last year's playoff teams are a combined 44-53. None of last year's division winners is in first place. And the Arizona Cardinals (3-5) are coming to Pittsburgh with a better record than the Steelers (2-6).

If the won-loss records aren't lying, the stats are. The Steelers, beset by gargantuan problems on defense, are ranked second overall defensively in the NFL. Steelers Coach Bill Cowher was so impressed by the ranking he dropped longtime starting cornerback Dewayne Washington out of the lineup.

The Steelers might be ranked second, but they allow 25.3 points per game.

"Stats are for losers," said defensive end Aaron Smith. "If you ain't winning, it doesn't really mean a whole lot. This is just a weird thing."

Weird? Any other descriptions for this 2-6 bunch?

"Strange," said linebacker Jason Gildon. "To have so much talent on this team, and to see everyone work so hard week in and week out, and not have anything to show for it to this point, it is strange. But that's one of the things I like about this team. No one's given up. We continue to work hard and press on. We feel we're going to break through. If we continue with that attitude, regardless of what the season holds in store for us, as long as everyone stays positive we'll make something happen."

Of course, it has to start today against the Cardinals. A league patsy long before the Cincinnati Bengals were a gleam in Paul Brown's eye, the Cardinals come to town with a two-game winning streak, a quarterback in Jeff Blake who knows the Steelers very well, a running back in Marcel Shipp who's gained over 300 yards the last two games, and a huge offensive line that averages 6-feet-6, 331 pounds per man. Take 279-pound center Pete Kendall out of the mix and the remainder of the line checks in at 331 pounds per man."

"I don't think I've ever played against a line quite this big," said Smith. "Dallas was big. These guys are a little bigger. They work well together. They're good football players."

Smith believes the Cardinals' success on the ground of late is due to a combination of Shipp taking the place of 34-year-old Emmitt Smith and the play of that mammoth line.

"Shipp's kind of energized them and they've been blocking better," Smith said. "It's kind of gone hand in hand."

The Steelers are desperate to have some of that chemistry in their offense. They, too, made a change at running back two games ago, but Jerome Bettis has gained only 92 yards on 29 carries (3.2 average) since replacing Amos Zereoue.

A line change last week, Oliver Ross for Todd Fordham at right tackle, was the second of three changes to the starting lineup in successive weeks. This week, Washington has been replaced by Deshea Townsend at right cornerback and rookie Ike Taylor will replace Townsend as the dime cornerback.

While the Steelers rank seventh in the league in passing yards allowed per game, they rank 32nd in completion percentage allowed and 29th in opponents' passer rating. The secondary has become the team's albatross.

"I don't think we're playing poorly, it's just situations where we need to get off the field and sometimes we do and sometimes we don't," Townsend explained. "We just need to be more consistent."

Defensively, the Cardinals rank 13th overall but allow 25.9 points per game. They are led by a solid core of linebackers, a pair of stout tackles, strong safety Adrian Wilson and cornerback David Barrett.

Their weaknesses, according to the Steelers' scouting report, are defensive end, cornerback Renaldo Hill and free safety Dexter Jackson, whom the Steelers tried to buy in the off-season. It may have been a sign of things to come for the overvalued Steelers.

Strange indeed.

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