They've finished first under coach Bill Cowher three times, and finished second one other time, but it hasn't resulted in a championship.
Will this year be any different?
"We have two big guys now and that's working for us," said guard Alan Faneca.
True. The Steelers have had some awfully good 1-2 punches in the backfield before, but never have they had two power runners as they do this year in Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis.
Staley averaged 101 rushing yards per game until a hamstring injury forced Bettis into the starting lineup Sunday. He responded with 149 yards on 33 carries against the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.
In the past, the Steelers have used "change-up" backs instead of alternating power backs.
In 1994, when the Steelers led the league in rushing, Barry Foster missed Games 13 and 14 with an injury and was replaced by Bam Morris, who sprained an ankle and could only rush twice for two yards in the AFC title game. Foster gained only 47 yards on 20 carries against the San Diego Chargers in that game.
In 1996, the Steelers finished second in the league in rushing. Bettis had only nine carries in the final two regular-season games because of an ankle injury. His back-up, scatback Erric Pegram, was injured in Game 15 and never played again for the Steelers. Bettis returned with a big game in the first round of the playoffs, but a groin injury stymied him in the fog-bowl loss at New England.
In 1997, the Steelers led the league in rushing, but it was all Bettis. There was no 2 in any 1-2 punch, and Bettis had no help in the playoffs. Back-up George Jones was injured and third-teamer Freddie McAfee carried only twice in two games.
In 2001, Bettis injured his groin in Game 11 and didn't play until the AFC title game, when he carried nine times for eight yards in the loss to New England. His backups were Amos Zereoue and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. The latter was injured in the first round of the playoffs and Zereoue, a scatback, carried only four times for 11 yards against the Patriots.
This season, the Steelers have a couple of power backs to go along with scatbacks Verron Haynes and Willie Parker.
"It's better in the sense that we can maintain our philosophy week in and week out," said Bettis. "We don't have to worry about who's back there and whether he can pound it out. So from that standpoint, it benefits us because there's no issue about somebody getting hurt and having to deviate from the game plan."
Bettis was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in Staley's stead last Sunday.
Bettis averaged 4.5 yards per carry in rushing for his 149 yards, and helped the Steelers control the ball for 41:49, their second consecutive 40-minute-plus performance.
The rushing total was Bettis' best since he rushed for 163 yards against Cleveland on Nov. 11, 2001.
Baltimore safety Ed Reed was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week and New England kicker Adam Vinatieri was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
A half dozen Steelers missed practice Wednesday, but only cornerback Chad Scott (out/quadriceps) and Haynes (doubtful/toe) are expected to miss Sunday's game.
Also missing practice were Staley, fullback Dan Kreider (hip flexor), center Jeff Hartings (knee) and back-up defensive end Travis Kirschke (back). Staley and Kreider are questionable, and Hartings and Kirschke are probable.
Missing practice for the Browns were wide receivers Andre Davis (toe) and Andre King (ankle), and punter Derrick Frost (ankle).
Davis and King are doubtful for the game, while Frost, who shanked a seven-yard punt to cost the Browns the game last Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, is probable.
Earlier this week, the Steelers signed fullback J.T. Wall to the practice squad and released quarterback Mike Quinn from it.
The Browns placed cornerback Leigh Bodden, of Duquesne University, and right guard Kelvin Garmon on injured reserve. They signed lineman Javiar Collins, waived lineman Anthony Oakley from the practice squad and signed punter Ryan Dutton to the practice squad.
Notebook: Power game times two
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