PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers have almost always been a run-first team under head coach Bill Cowher.
But this season, that philosophy has only been carried out at home.
On the road, the once-vaunted Steelers' rushing attack has looked more fickle than fearsome.
In five home games this season, the Steelers have averaged nearly 170 yards rushing per game. In the same number of road games they've averaged 59 yards rushing.
"The numbers are getting skewed home and away and I really don't have an answer for that," said head coach Bill Cowher.
Certainly there are a number of factors involved, from the defenses they've faced on the road, to the fact that they've spent most of their road games playing from behind.
But one thing is certain, if the Steelers (4-6) want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, they'll need to generate some kind of rushing attack Sunday at Baltimore.
And against a Ravens defense that is allowing just 82.1 yards per game this season and has traditionally given the Steelers fits, that won't be an easy job.
"It's going to come down to who's running the best this week on both sides of the ball," said Steelers Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca. "Controlling the clock and doing a good job of that to help out the defense, especially on our end, will definitely be a big help."
But will the Steelers be able to break the trend that has dogged them this season?
Much of that will depend on how Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the team's defense plays. If the Steelers get behind early, they'll have to give up on their rushing attack, much like they did last week against Cleveland when they threw the ball 44 times and ran it just 20.
"You always have to be able to (run the ball), especially with our offense line and backs," said Roethlisberger. "When it's clicking like it normally does, we have the ability at any time to break a big play. As long as we stay with it, I know that our line will open the holes and our backs will bust something open."
According to Faneca, part of the problem may be the team's use of the silent count on the road. Because the Steelers don't rely on Roethlisberger to yell out the snap count, sometimes the offensive linemen may be a little slow getting off the line when the ball is snapped. "Sometimes crowd noise does play a little bit of an effect in communication," Faneca admitted. "You just have to get used to it. No matter how much you simulate it in practice, you go out there in that first series and you have to get your feet wet with the tempo of a game and doing it on a silent count in that mode."
One thing is certain, the Steelers aren't going to totally abandon their base offense or running game, even if they scored all three of their touchdowns last week after they went to a no-huddle offense.
"I think we'll use it as a change of pace like we did the other day," said Cowher. "I don't think it's something we want to live by. We're not the Indianapolis Colts. We feel good with our offense, the way we have it designed. There's different ways to do different things. It's a nice option to have and (Roethlisberger) did a good job the other day, which was used more out of necessity because of the time frame we had to work with in that fourth quarter. But it's nice to have that option so that when you get behind because you know that you've been there before."
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.