Who doesn't?">
Who doesn't?">

Ward: What me worry?

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> So, Hines Ward, the thinking goes that Plaxico Burress opens up the field for you, allows you to make so many of your catches, and now - <BR><BR> "Who says that?" Ward interrupted.<BR><BR> Who doesn't?

"Look," Ward said. "I get just as much double coverage as he does. That's cover-2. And if Plax is getting doubled, they're more than likely not going to double him with their best cornerback. You may double him, but yet I'm getting Ty Law, Pat Surtain. I got as many catches on those guys. It's an equation and everything equals out.

"People say he's getting double-covered, but you don't use your best corner to double somebody. That's the philosophy of football."

Ward, the Steelers' flanker, or Z receiver, is third in the AFC with 57 catches. He averages 11.9 yards per grab and has 3 touchdowns.

Burress, the X receiver, will miss Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins with a hamstring injury. He'll be replaced by Antwaan Randle El, the normal slot, or Y, receiver.

Burress has only 32 catches this season, but averages 18.8 yards per grab, third best in the NFL. He's scored 4 touchdowns. He's the deep threat, and the thinking among most analysts in town is that while Burress is not as productive as Ward, he allows for Ward's productivity by demanding extra attention.

That subtlety is expected to come to the fore Sunday. Ward, obviously, disagrees.

"My position allows me to get me open. I do a lot of different things: motion, disguises. Plax is the deep threat. You know what he's going to do. Me? You don't know what I'm going to do. You don't know if I'm going to block, curl, an out, a skinny, anything. That's the difference between the two positions. People who have that theory - it's your guys' theory; I don't think that - but I think we both get each other open.

"Me being on the field has something to do with his success and vice versa. And now that he's not out there, it's another question: Are you going to lose anything with Plax not out there? That's a question for Antwaan, and he's eager, he's happy, he's working his tail off. And I'm all for him. We can't do anything about Plax's injury. The next guy has to step in and keep doing it. I've got to show Antwaan we have confidence in him. I know he's not Plax. He's not trying to be Plax. He's trying to be like Antwaan, and I look for a big game. He's going to make some plays."

Burress and Ward have been in the lineup every game since the last month of the 2000 season. Since that season, Burress' first, the two have combined to make 664 catches for 8,912 yards.

By comparison, Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth combined to catch 502 passes for 8,258 yards in eight more games through their prime years together (1977-82).

Burress and Ward are quite the tandem, but Burress' contract expires at the end of the season. It may expire permanently if the Steelers like what they see from the Ward-Randle El tandem on Sunday.

"It's an opportunity to go out and show that I can be a starting receiver and play in that spot," said Randle El. "It may be one game; it may be two games. Who knows? But at the same time I have to show that I have the ability to go out and be a starting receiver."

What about press coverage? Without the extra yard slot receivers normally have to work with, will the smaller Randle El have trouble getting off the line as the split end?

"No, you just have to move them," Randle El said. "In the slot, you have, not necessarily a whole lot of room, but when you play at split end, they can take away a certain side. They can take away the inside; they can take away the outside. At the same time, if he's inside or outside, you've got to take a little time to move them, especially with these guys. These guys are big and long. They're long-armed. You've just got to move them and get going."

So, will the offense change?

"No," Ward said. "We're not going to truly change. We know Plax is our deep guy. Whoever plays the X position is going to get deeper balls. You play Z, you might get a deep ball every now and then. That's the difference between the two. It's not that I take over the X deep threat. No, I play Z and Z doesn't get the ball thrown downfield. Twaan probably gets the deeper routes. I probably get a couple, but I don't really have any control over who goes deep or whatnot. If the play calls for me to go deep, I'll work my tail off to get deep and get open."

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