Who said the Steelers were a running team?
"To have both of those guys on either side, it really puts a defense in a bind because they don't know whether to try to take Plax away or try to take Hines away," said Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox. "I think they would tell you the same thing; it's an added bonus to have the other one on the other side."
Burress, who set a team record in Sunday's 34-34 tie with Atlanta with 253 receiving yards, said a lot of the numbers he and Ward are putting up this season can be attributed to the emergence of Maddox.
"Tommy has helped me elevate my game," said Burress, who is on pace to catch 80 passes for 1,368 yards and 11 touchdowns. "He just makes my job a lot easier. When I approach the line, I tell myself, if I can beat my guy, the ball's going to be there and in a place where only I can catch it. Because of that, I've had success and I credit all of my success to him."
Burress, in particular, has seen his numbers increase since Maddox took over as quarterback in the team's fourth game of the season. The former No. 1 draft pick had nine catches for 105 yards in the first three games, but has averaged six catches per game since Maddox was inserted at quarterback in place of Kordell Stewart.
Ward, meanwhile, has continued on the tear he was on with Stewart in the lineup and is on pace to shatter his team record of 94 receptions with 117 catches this season. And with a career-high eight TD catches in nine games, Ward is well within reach of the team record of 12 touchdown receptions in a season shared by Louis Lipps in 1985 and Buddy Dial in 1961.
"They're throwing the ball much more efficiently with confidence, and can strike from anywhere," said Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher, whose Titans host the Steelers Sunday. "The play-action game has really improved. They keep you off balance. The passing game is very, very much improved."
That doesn't mean the Steelers are going to start seeing defenses line up in a dime defense every down against them anytime soon. Much like the age-old question of "which came first, the chicken or the egg", with the Steelers' offense the question is "which feeds off of the other, the running game or the passing game".
"We're a running offense," said Burress. "Everybody knows that we go out and establish the running game first. That's what we're known for. It makes the passing game a lot easier. When we're passing the ball the way that we have, then it's going to open lanes in the running game. That's how the game is."
And that is how the Steelers like it.
"I would rather teams line up with eight men in the box and leave our receivers out there one-on-one," said Maddox. "But you're not always going to have that. You have to take what the defense is going to give you. Sometimes a team will try to take away Plax and we throw it to Hines. Sometimes, they'll try to take away Hines and Plax will have big game."
"Pick your poison."