Lolley: Maybe they just can't run

We've spent a lot of time this season lamenting the fact the Pittsburgh Steelers don't run the ball enough. Now we know why they don't.

Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers ran the ball more than they threw it, 37-30 to be exact.

That rushing attack netted the Steelers all of 121 yards, an average of 3.3 per attempt. That's not bad against, say the Baltimore Ravens, but against the Bengals, it's atrocious.

Certainly the Steelers were able to run the ball when they needed to - gaining 96 of those yards on 23 second-half carries. But in the first half, when the game was still very much in doubt, the Steelers gained 25 yards on 14 carries.

It's a good thing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seems to be out of his mid-season slump because he's going to have to carry this offense.

© On the plus side, the Steelers were able to get a yard when they needed a yard, something they hadn't been able to do recently.

Mike Tomlin's decision to go for the first down on fourth-and-one from the Cincinnati 4 in the second quarter was a no-brainer.

You've got to establish that you can do that if you're going to be a championship football team.

Gary Russell was the best short-yardage back in training camp. Good to see it only took the coaching staff half a season to figure that out - not to be critical.

© Yes, I still believe this is a championship-caliber team.

But it does have to figure out something different in its punting game - both kicking and receiving.

Paul Ernster's effort - if it can be called that - was the worst I've seen in 16 seasons of covering the NFL.

Heck, it would have been the worse than any high school punter I've ever seen.

There's no way the Steelers will line up to play New England with Ernster on the roster - or, quite possibly, even in the country.

He should not only be released, I didn't see him after the game. There's a good chance James Harrison may have killed him.

As for the punt return game, somebody needs to explain to me why the return man sets up 45 yards from the line of scrimmage after watching Bengals punter Kyle Larson boot his first couple of kicks less than 40.

Maybe I'm just a dumb sportswriter, but even I knew there was no way Larson was kicking the ball that far.

© The Steelers' defense was outstanding again Thursday night without big games by the usual suspects.

James Harrison had a rare quiet night thanks to Cincinnati's quick passing game, while Troy Polamalu was heard from all that much until the Bengals' final series.

But James Farrior and Aaron Smith were outstanding, showing why this is the league's best defense.

It's more than one player. Heck, it's more than two players carrying the water.

There aren't many weak points to attack and even if you do try to pick on, say William Gay making his second career start, you do so knowing that you're opening yourself up to getting your quarterback killed.

Cincinnati tried to get T.J. Houshmandzadeh matched up one-on-one with Gay as much as possible. But Dick LeBeau is Dick LeBeau for a reason.

With Chad Ocho Cinco suspended for the game, LeBeau knew Houshmandzadeh was the Bengals' only reliable receiver.

He finished with four catches for 20 yards and a long catch of 11 yards.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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