During that forgettable season, the Steelers found themselves with a new toy; something that hadn't been a significant part of their offense in quite some time. Knute Rockne called it the forward pass. The Steelers threw it, threw it a lot, and threw it some more - they even threw it 40 times on one infamous Sunday against the New York Jets, when the Meadowlands resembled the Arctic Circle.
Honestly, it didn't work all that well. The following year, things returned to normal. The Steelers ran the ball. The Steelers won. Everybody was happy. And now this? Talk of four wide receivers on the field? No-Huddle offense? Opening things back up? Blasphemy, you say.
Early last week, I saw one prominent member of the Pittsburgh media remind us of 2003 when talking about this potential new Steelers offense. "It's just not a way to win football games," were his exact words.
Twice this week alone I had conversations around the water cooler about how this could be a bad idea.
I think it all comes down to two things:
1. Our last memories of a Steelers team throwing the football are of Tommy Maddox tossing passes to the other team.
2. An identity crisis. These are the Pittsburgh Steelers! Tough, knock the snot out of you, we don't want your wimpy finesse stuff around here. Telling these fans their 3-yards-a- cloud-of-dust football team are going to, "open things up a little bit," is like taking a fan base that prides itself on not needing a giant scoreboard to tell it when the time is right to make noise, and shoving a brand new mascot down its throats.
Not that we should be concerned about any of this.
First, the notion that this is no way to win is just slightly flawed. Going back over the last seven Super Bowls, nine of the fourteen participants had a pass/run ratio which favored the pass, including four Champions (The 2006 Colts, 2003 Patriots, 2002 Buccaneers and 2001 Patriots).
Second, and perhaps more importantly, these Pittsburgh Steelers are not the 2003 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2003 Steelers were not built to throw the football. They were built to pound Jerome Bettis at the defense 30 times - until they couldn't stand it anymore - and then helplessly watch him rip off a 25-yard run in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
The quarterback was a career journeyman, whose best season on a football field came in a now defunct league, which was run by a wrestling guru. The running back situation was a disaster wrapped inside of a nightmare, while the tight end spots on the roster might as well have been left blank.
The biggest difference between the two teams is the quarterback position. Ben Roethlisberger is not Tommy Maddox. When Roethlisberger keeps himself out of the hospital, he's capable of doing some pretty spectacular things - think 2005 playoffs spectacular.
Entering this season, Roethlisberger has the most yards per pass attempt of any Quarterback in the NFL (minimum 1,000 career attempts) since Sid Luckman. That's some pretty elite company.
Just for laughs:
Ben Roethlisberger – 8.3
Peyton Manning – 7.7
Tom Brady – 7.0
Carson Palmer – 7.4
John Elway – 7.1
Joe Montana – 7.5
Troy Aikman – 7.0
Ken Anderson – 7.3
Ken Stabler – 7.4
Jim Kelly – 7.4
Frank Tarkenton – 7.3
In his first two seasons, Roethlisberger averaged 8.9 yards per attempt each year. Tom Brady has never averaged eight yards per attempt in a single season in his career. Peyton Manning has done it twice, and only once did he top 8.9.
Now, before you tell me I'm crazy for suggesting Roethlisberger is better than any of those guys, I'm not suggesting that. Merely pointing out what type of talent we're dealing with here and what he's capable of doing in the right situation. And this could be the right situation.
Willie Parker is everything Amos Zereoue was supposed to be as a player, and perhaps more. Heath Miller (and hopefully Matt Spaeth) adds a dimension the Steelers haven't had since Eric Green, while the wide receiver position is setting itself up to be quite deep.
This offense has a lot of potential, and the failures of 2003 should not take away from what it has to offer.