Steelers to feature ground game vs. Broncos

The Steelers head to Denver with the kind of match-up that seems right up their alley. Pittsburgh loves to run the football, and the Broncos cannot stop it.

Willie Parker leads a Pittsburgh ground game that ranks second in the NFL, while Denver ranks No. 32 against the run.

There's little secret what Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians hopes to accomplish Sunday night in Denver.

"It looks like the hand-off might be a pretty nice option on Sunday," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I told the wide receivers and Bruce that I'm going to have to get my throws in before practice; it might be the last throwing I do all week."

The Steelers average 167 yards rushing a game, with Parker getting 101 of that. The Broncos give up 187.6 on average.

"They're susceptible to the run, and we run the ball well," Roethlisberger said, "so I'm sure that's what we'll go in featuring."

Perhaps the Steelers quarterback protests too much. Denver also geared up to stop the Steelers running game -- No. 1 in the NFL in 2005 -- when it faced them in the AFC Championship Game that season. The Steelers shot on top 24-3 at halftime mainly by throwing. Roethlisberger finished 21 of 29 for 275 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half.

So his statement Wednesday might be a ruse. The Steelers under Arians are still running the ball more often than anyone in the NFL, 57.2 percent of the time. Yet they throw the ball early to get a lead and sit on it in the second half. They have outscored their opponents 57-6 in the first halves of their games this season.

It's the same kind of formula former coordinator Ken Whisenhunt used so well in 2004 and 2005.

Roethlisberger is riding that ground game and also picking his spots better than ever. He's thrown just three interceptions -- and nine touchdown passes -- in five games. Last season, he threw seven in his first three games on way to an NFL high of 23.

Denver made him pay in Pittsburgh with three interceptions, two of them by cornerback Champ Bailey in a 31-20 Broncos victory.

"Champ's one of the better corners in the league," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who will return to start after missing the past two games with a knee sprain. "We're not going to shy away, but we know if we don't run proper routes and he gets his hand on ball, more than likely he'll catch it."

The Steelers also are more leery of the Denver pass rush than they are about the run defense.

"They keep them fresh and they keep them coming," left tackle Marvel Smith said.

Parker already has 121 carries -- on pace to challenge the team record of 390 carries in a season -- and is ready to get his share again Sunday night.

"Thank God I haven't suffered any major blows," Parker said. "I was really on top of my game, my body was really fit going into the bye week."

Backup Najeh Davenport, though, might see more carries for two reasons -- to give Parker some recovery time in the high altitude and because Davenport has been effective this season with 209 yards and a 7.5-yard average per carry.


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