Baltimore Game Notes

BALTIMORE - Like the rest of the league, the Steelers are now throwing caution - and the ball - to the wind.<p> After being the target of a passing barrage in their first two games of this season, the Steelers have adjusted to make themselves more like the rest of the league. They now pass first and ask questions later.<p>

Including the Steelers, 19 of the league's 32 teams, are completing 60 percent of better of their passes. And 21 of the league's 32 teams, including the Steelers, are averaging more than 200 yards passing per game. When you also consider that only six teams are averaging less than 30 pass attempts per game while only seven teams average more than 30 rushing attempts per game, you get a good idea of where the league is heading.

"You've got to be able to throw the ball just as well as you've got to be able to run it," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward, who had a game-high eight catches for 97 yards in Sunday's 31-18 victory over Baltimore, and is on pace to shatter his team record of 94 receptions set last season.

"We've really done a good job of mixing the pass and the run and we've gotten into a rhythm and just kept it going."

But, after producing 110 yards on 29 carries Sunday, the Steelers running game is averaging just 123.1 yards per game this season after leading the league in rushing with 173.4 yards per game a year ago. Their rushing total this season is the second lowest in head coach Bill Cowher's 11 seasons in Pittsburgh.

Of course, the only time the Steelers averaged less yards per game than they are this season was in 1995, when they put up 115.8 yards rushing per game. They also went to the Super Bowl that season.

The Steelers aren't about to abandon the running game, however. They know that the passing game can build a lead, but it takes a good running game to take advantage of that lead.

"We're going to need our running game," said Ward. "You've got to be able to put teams away in this league and you've got to keep their offense off the field."

Speaking of the running game, I've said this before, but it bears repeating: Amos Zereoue is not an every-down back in the NFL. Sunday's performance against a banged-up Ravens defense drives that point home again. Zereoue finished with 53 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns against the Ravens, not bad numbers. But when you consider he got 35 of those 53 yards on one carry, his other 12 attempts netted him 18 yards. That's not even mediocre.

You'd better believe that had Ray Lewis played Sunday, Zereoue likely wouldn't have gotten the 35-yard touchdown run, either. Zereoue's a nice change-of-pace back, but he's not a guy who can carry it 20 times a game.

Continuing to use Tommy Maddox as the team's holder is only exposing him to several more plays per game where he could take a cheap shot. It's time for Maddox to turn the holding duties over to Josh Miller.

After one short scramble Sunday, Baltimore QB Jeff Blake got up thumping his chest. Baltimore was down 21-0 at the time, so maybe Blake was just trying to kickstart his own heart.

Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon, who tackled Blake on the play, took umbrage at the quarterback's display and thumped his own chest. Other than that, however, you wouldn't have known he was on the field. . . again.

Baltimore tight end Todd Heap is the most athletic player at that position I've seen. That includes Tony Gonzalez.

If James Trapp did indeed jump on Plaxico Burress' face with both feet, as Burress and several Steelers claimed, Trapp should be suspended for the remainder of this season. It would actually save him a pretty good beating. I've got to believe the Steelers will be looking for No. 38 when these two teams meet again later this season.

I said a few weeks ago that the Steelers will be 8-4 after 12 games and I'm sticking by that prediction. Could that loss come this week? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

I'm going to go on record as predicting a Denver-Pittsburgh AFC Championship Game. The game will be in Denver, something that Steelers fans will be thankful for.

Following the game, Blake said that the Steelers didn't stop their offense. "We moved the ball up and down the field and we stopped ourselves," said Blake. Maybe Blake thumped his chest one too many times. When you throw three interceptions and your team is down 28-3 at the half, you didn't move the ball up and down the field. With a healthy lead, the Steelers got very conservative in the second half.

Maybe Ravens coach Brian Billick put it in better terms when he said, "You saw what championship caliber football looked like in the first half. They're an outstanding team. Our guys got schooled in the first half ... I'm not going to spend too much time (looking) at the first half of that game because all I'm going to see is 11 guys kicking the (crap) out of 11 other guys. It's one-on-one; you kicked his ass; you kicked his ass; you kicked his ass."

Who said journalists don't know anything about football? That's pretty much what I saw, too.

--Dale Lolley

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