Deep thoughts...

<br> Here are the thoughts of a writer who saw the wildest ending to a game on Sunday he's seen in his 10 years of covering the league.</p> <p style=&quot;margin-left: 3; margin-right: 3&quot;>This is a quarterback controversy-free zone.</p> <p style=&quot;margin-left: 3; margin-right: 3&quot;>When Phil Dawson was lining up for what would have been his game-winning 45-yard field goal in overtime, I looked to the writer standing next to me on the field and said he was going to miss it.</p

"Why?" the Cleveland writer asked. "Phil Dawson is almost automatic."

Not at Heinz Field, I told him. At Heinz Field, any attempt outside of 35 yards is an adventure for any kicker. Dawson promptly hit his kick low enough for it to hit Kimo von Oelhoffen in the helmet. Heinz Field's kicker curse cost the Steelers a game last season against Baltimore. It saved them this year.

Things have a way of evening out.

Speaking of Heinz Field, the grass is in terrible condition. As cornerback Dewayne Washington put it, "It doesn't even look like there's grass in a lot of spots. What's it going to be like later this year?"

What indeed.

The Steelers have played four games on Heinz Field - two exhibition, two regular season - and Pitt has been there for four games. That's hardly enough to tear it up as bad as it now is. Of course judging by the looks of my lawn - or what used to be my lawn - this was not a good year to grow grass in Western Pennsylvania.

Some people would beg to differ with that previous statement, but I'm not going there.

The Steelers can't run the ball. Jerome Bettis is still struggling to hit the holes, although he did have a nice spin move to nearly score in the second quarter. Amos Zereoue is still way too easy to bring down and isn't showing the burst he did last season. Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala gave the team a spark in the second half in place of Bettis, but then left the game with - what else? - an injury, showing why the coaches have no faith in him. Right now, Kordell Stewart and Antwaan Randle El are the only running game the Steelers have.

That being said, don't expect the Steelers to stop trying to run the ball.

I'm not seeing big holes being blown open by this offensive line. The linemen are as much to blame for the lack of running game as the running backs are at this point.

Kordell Stewart's biggest problem this season has been his over reliance on Hines Ward. It's understandable. Ward fights for the ball and makes tough catches in traffic.

James Farrior played a terrific game against the Browns. When the Steelers get Kendrell Bell back, they will be very, very difficult to game plan for if Farrior continues to play that way.

The Steelers combated the spread offense by taking strong safety Lee Flowers off the field at times and replacing him with cornerback Deshea Townsend in their base package. It helps them in coverage, but hurts them stopping the run. The question is, can you live with the occasional big run as opposed to being bled to death with the short passing game?

Joey Porter picked off his third pass Sunday, setting up a Steelers field goal. There's something to be said for being in the right position all the time. But the most underrated thing for a defensive player in football is having great hands. Had former Steelers safety Carnell Lake had even average hands, he would be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Porter, who was a wide receiver and H-back before moving to defensive end at Colorado State, has excellent hands. It is obvious after he dropped a Tim Couch pass that was right in his hands on third-and-goal in the second quarter, that Clark Haggans does not.

The interception Haggans dropped are the things that keep good players from becoming great. An interception there stops a Browns field goal drive and the Steelers take a 6-3 lead into the half. Haggans had another half-sack Sunday and now has three for the season. But you have got to find a way to catch the ball when the quarterback makes a mistake like the one Couch did.

---Dale Lolley


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