Steelers' Key Match-Up

What was the NFL's No. 1 rated defense last season has been shredded the last few weeks by the likes of Kelly Holcomb and Jeff Blake. And if the Pittsburgh Steelers somehow find a way to keep winning, each new quarterback they face will be more skilled than the last.

No, the Steelers can't stop a quality passing attack, but they can do the next best thing. They can outscore teams. So the question the Steelers must ask themselves is this: Can offense win championships?

"Absolutely," said veteran receiver Terance Mathis. "The Broncos did it twice, and look what the Rams did. The way everyone around the league is putting up crazy numbers, I imagine another passing team will win it all this year."

The Steelers must keep pace through the air, and their best chance against the Tennessee Titans is to do so with three- and four-receiver packages, perhaps even out of the no-huddle attack.

"I think they caught the Browns off guard and took the game over and dictated once they got into the no-huddle," said Titans Coach Jeff Fisher. "I don't believe it's a preference of Bill Cowher and his staff and that is the case with us. You want to control the game and run the football."

But it's not so easy in today's game.
"Guys are getting big and fast. You've got to really be on top of your game to run the ball consistently," said Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox. "There are a lot of horses in there. Somebody told me the other day the top 13 rushers are now out of the playoffs."

The Steelers will face No. 14, but expect Eddie George to spend almost as much time lining up wide, testing the Steelers' struggling secondary, as he will in the backfield. It's the trend these days, so perhaps the Steelers might want to beat the Titans to the punch. Perhaps they should line up with four receivers on first down and get after it.
"We could start the game with four wide receivers," said receiver Plaxico Burress. "It would probably be a shock to them, but us? We're very comfortable doing it."

Burress has had his moments against the Tennessee secondary. His first two 100-yard games were against the Titans in 2001, but this past regular season, in the Titans' 31-23 win over the Steelers, Burress was held to 4 catches for 41 yards.

"I probably couldn't have seen more coverages than I got in that game," said Burress. "They were running the linebackers from the line of scrimmage at me, taking away my slant routes and all my A routes and pushing everything inside, not really giving me anything outside. That's what they try to do, take away the big play and make us nickel and dime our way down the football field."

Hines Ward responded to the barrage of double-teams the Titans threw at Burress with 10 catches for 168 yards. And if the Titans double both Burress and Ward, as the Browns did in the second half of last Sunday's game, rookie Antwaan Randle El has the ability to move the chains, as he did Sunday, when he made all 5 of his receptions for 85 yards in the second half.

The Titans are expected to use their best cover corner, Andre Dyson, on Ward and use Samari Rolle and free safety Lance Schulters in tandem on Burress. Nickel back Donald Mitchell, a solid cover man, would watch Randle El, leaving either strong safety Tank Williams or dime safety Rich Coady to cover Mathis, the Steelers' fourth receiver.

Both Williams and Coady are more capable against the run than in coverage. In fact, the Titans' defense was built to stop the physical running attacks of the old AFC Central division. And like the Steelers, they don't have enough coverage-oriented defensive backs to shut down an effective passing attack, which the Steelers possess.

"I don't think you could put a better four receivers out on the field than we do," said Burress. "You can't double-team everybody and that guy in single coverage always seems to win. That's how it's been around here when we do have to apply the 2-minute offense. We've got to put four receivers on the field and we feel very comfortable doing it. Our coaches have a lot of faith in us to play well and so does our quarterback."

---Jim Wexell




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