Pittsburgh Steelers Team Report

After putting one foot in front of them, the Pittsburgh Steelers will try to take another step when they play at San Francisco on Monday night.

Although only a victory against Arizona, the Steelers were encouraged after ending a five-game losing streak and actually gaining a game on first-place Baltimore in the AFC North. The Steelers, at 3-6, are two behind the Ravens, 5-4, and already have beaten them. The teams play in Baltimore in the final game of the season, and the Ravens are likely without rookie QB Kyle Boller (knee) for the rest of the season.

"We're still 3-6," linebacker Joey Porter said. "It's not like that one win was worth eight wins. We still have seven more games to go. We have to take it for what it is, it's a big victory for us right now."

The Steelers have a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way. The only team with a winning record left on their schedule is Baltimore. Their other six opponents have a combined record of 18-36.

Upping his rating
Tommy Maddox completed only 12 of 24 passes for 159 yards, but he threw three touchdown passes, was not intercepted and was sacked just once. Hines Ward caught half of his completions for 64 yards and two touchdowns. This was Maddox's best passer rating since he led the NFL after one week with a 134.3. He had a 110.9 against Arizona on Sunday and improved his season rating to 76.6. The offense had more of a rhythm and Maddox actually threw deep, connecting on his longest pass of the season, 53 yards to Chris Doering.

Spinning his wheels
Jerome Bettis ran reasonably well in the first half when he had 47 yards rushing on 10 carries, but hit the skids in the second half and finished with just 54 yards on 18 carries. He had a few good runs called back by penalties. The Steelers ran for 87 yards as a team and a 3.2-yard average. Bettis needs 182 yards rushing to reach 12,000 for his career. He needs 257 to move into ninth place all-time and 303 to surpass Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris (12,120 yards) into eighth place on the NFL's career rushing list.

Defensive notes
The Steelers' revamped pass defense – with Deshea Townsend starting at cornerback instead of Dewayne Washington and Ike Taylor taking Washington's place in the nickel and dime packages - played better than their statistics suggested. Jeff Blake completed 23 of 43 passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But much of his yardage came during garbage time in the fourth quarter. He threw a 54-yard TD pass with 17 seconds left in the game. Blake was sacked five times, under constant pressure, and threw poorly on third downs. This was the second game in a row that the Steelers unleashed the pass rush.

Taylor had his most extensive playing time of the season, lining up in the nickel and dime defenses. The rookie fourth-round draft pick from Louisiana-Lafayette did not allow a pass completion over him.

The rush defense had another good game. Marcel Shipp managed just 63 yards on 22 carries. Quarterback Jeff Blake was the most effective, picking up 30 yards on five scrambles. The Cardinals were held to 96 yards and a 3.4-yard average.

Quick Hits

  • WR Antwaan Randle El was held without a catch for the second time in his career. He also did not catch a pass last Dec. 1 against Jacksonville.
  • Randle El's 52-yard punt return for a touchdown put an asterisk on another good day for the Steelers special teams. They held the NFL's leading kickoff returner, Josh Scobey, to an average of 15 yards on five returns. Josh Miller punted seven times.

  • OT Marvel Smith is expected to suit up in pads and practice fulltime this week. He has missed five of the past six games with a pinched nerve in his neck, and played only three snaps in the other game.

Quote to Note
"Our playoffs did start, make no mistake about it. We're still playing single-game elimination." -- LB Joey Porter.

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