The Steelers rely on the run more than any team in the NFL, at least over the past two seasons, when they've run 1,167 times.
They remain committed to the run, but they also did not replace the heart and soul of their power attack, Jerome Bettis, who retired. Duce Staley is trying to fill that role but he's run little over the last 1 1/2 seasons because of injuries and he's 31. Willie Parker proved by his 1,202 yards rushing last season that he can run. But can he get the tough yards at the goal line, or grind it out in the second half with a lead as Bettis did so often the past two seasons?
Coach Bill Cowher was disappointed with his running and run-blocking in the first preseason game in Arizona. The Steelers managed only 72 yards. First-year quarterback Shane Boyd, third or fourth on the depth chart, led them with 16 yards on four scrambles and wide receiver Nate Washington had the biggest chunk with a 10-yard end around.
Staley carried seven times for 14 yards. Rookie Cedrick Humes, trying to take Bettis' spot on the roster, had 4 yards on three carries.
"There was a lot of (mental errors) we had, particularly in the running game," Cowher said. "We did not game-plan but that's no excuse; just going out there and running basic plays, we should be able to execute."
The Steelers were concerned enough after Bettis' retirement that they talked to Atlanta about a trade for big back T.J. Duckett during the draft, one that fell through when the Falcons asked for a third-round draft pick in 2007. The Steelers also considered drafting Southern Cal jumbo LenDale White but opted to make a trade to move up and draft wide receiver Santonio Holmes instead.
Pittsburgh waited until the last round of the draft to select Humes, a 6-1, 233-pound inside runner from Virginia Tech. Humes has looked good in the first two weeks of training camp but did not score any points, literally and figuratively, when he fumbled into the end zone from the 1-yard line in Arizona.
"I didn't like the fact the ball was fumbled there," Cowher said.
Cowher and the rest of the Steelers are more content with their passing game at this point, unusual considering just two months ago Roethlisberger narrowly missed dying in a motorcycle accident.
He looked good during a nine-play series in Arizona, but an injured thumb may keep him from playing Saturday against the Vikings. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 29 yards against the Cardinals, eluding pass rushers and safety blitzes until he was brought down by a sack on the ninth play and reminded about the safety factor.
"I just told him in the future I would rather him go down at this point, where we're at, rather than to fight to get free," Cowher said. "But that's what happens, you get out there and you don't start thinking about those things, which was good for him. I think it was just good for him to get out there and just play. From that perspective, I'm kind of glad we got that out of the way."
Cowher and Papale were together at Eagles training camp in 1979 and both were cut. The two reunited in July at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.
"It was Dick Vermeil's first year there, and he held a tryout for anyone in Philadelphia," Cowher said. "(Papale) got talked into going out there, and they invited him to camp and he kept making all these tackles. So the movie took it from the time Vermeil was hired to right up to about the second game."
Cowher loved "Invincible," which debuts in theaters Aug. 25.
"It was excellent, really good," Cowher said of the movie. "I think it's a very inspiring movie. I encouraged a lot of players to see it. It gives you a great appreciation for the game of football and respect for where it started and what it means to the people."
"I got up and talked and I said, ‘Hey, I'm not for Roger Goodell for any of these reasons except one — he is the best commissioner we can get,'" Rooney said.