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On the Steelers: Which comes 1st for Steelers? Run or pass?
Friday, September 30, 2011

Call this a Catch 22 that depends on a Run 22, a delicate balance in which success in one can produce more success in the other or failure can yield failure.

The NFL has become a passing league for reasons Bruce Arians, the Steelers offensive coordinator, will explain. He believes the Steelers will go along with it, that their passing attack right now must "carry" them. Before they can unleash the power that starts with Ben Roethlisberger's right arm, however, they must first show they can do more than grind out 3.3 yards per carry when they run, and therein lies the dilemma, or maybe a solution to what ails the Steelers offense.

"I usually script five home runs a game," Arians said of throwing the deep ball. "I don't like coming home with any of them not being called. That's something we just love to do, we like to throw the ball deep."

But they cannot do that if they keep coming up short on the run. They need that threat to bring one safety closer to the line and open those deep passing lanes.

"I'd like to run the ball a whole lot better so that we can use that play-action because it's hard to drop back and throw it deep," Arians said. "If you get play-action and your running game is working, you can get it deep because then you can eliminate some safety play. We better run the ball better to get it deep."

The question is how?

The answer has not surfaced in their first three games. The Steelers average 85.7 yards per game rushing. Rashard Mendenhall, Arians' lead dog, has 148 yards and a 3.0-yard average per carry.

And Sunday in Houston against a rampaging defense, it looks as though the Steelers will insert two more starters in a line that has seen more changes than a Macy's dressing room.

"It's a guy here or there," said Arians, explaining the ground game's problems.

"It's not a major concern right now. We're still young, we're still shifting around, getting to know what these new guys can do. It's one of those things where the passing game is going to have to carry us a little bit more than the running game, but we have to get it going."

As for it being easier to pass in a year in which records are falling through the air everywhere, Arians said it is natural.

"Ain't no doubt, because of the rule changes. It's harder to run the football than it used to be. People have gone back to a lot of eight-man fronts and a lot of stunts and blitzing to blow runs up. So, it's a lot easier to throw the football right now.

"And I think with the lockout, it's much easier to throw it than it is to run it. I think most people would think it's easier the other way, but guys can throw and catch in shorts all the time. It takes some time to grind out that running game and now, with only one day a week in pads, it even slows the process down."

Wallace thrives

One player who has benefitted from the extra passing is wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is second in the league with 377 yards receiving and again has a healthy average of 18.0 yards per catch.

The Texans, Arians said, are not likely to double Wallace because that is not how they play defense. But, if they do, that's OK, too.

"Just keep sending him down there, see if they're going to cover him," is how Arians said they will use Wallace. "If they take two, that means someone else is single-covered.

"I think he keeps surprising people who don't see him a lot. Last year, as games went on, more people played deeper and deeper. Both [Texans] corners played him before, Jonathan Joseph in Cincinnati and [Jason] Allen in Miami. They know what to expect, but their coaches are going to put him in single coverage, that's what they do, they play man-to-man. They have a tough job.

"As long as he can stay healthy and keep playing, I think he'll continue to get his yards."

Mendenhall fits near goal

Rashard Mendenhall will remain in the goal-line offense, Arians said, despite the problems the Steelers have had in those situations. The Steelers pulled him for one play in favor of Isaac Redman at the goal line against Seattle, but Arians said they should have stuck with Mendenhall.

"That's Rashard's job. There was one play [against the Seahawks], he bounced the play outside and he actually made the right read. We took him out because he didn't hit it straight up in there, but he was right, we should have left him in there.

"He's done too good a job inside the 5. That goal-line run against Seattle where he spun and hit it, that was a great job. No, that's his job."

McFadden still not ready\

Cornerback Bryant McFadden, who has been bothered by a hamstring problem since early in training camp, has practiced the past two weeks but has not played since the opener. He does not expect to play in Houston, either.

"I think it may be probably smarter on my end if I probably didn't because of not knowing how healthy I am," McFadden said. "I really don't want to get into that situation where some of that can linger through the course of the year."

William Gay would make his third start at left cornerback if McFadden does not go, and Keenan Lewis would enter the game in the nickel defense.

Also, Ziggy Hood is expected to make his second consecutive start at defensive right end for Brett Keisel (knee) and offensive tackle Jamon Meredith, signed Sept. 13 to take Willie Colon's spot on the roster, likely will dress for his first game with the Steelers because of the injuries to Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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First published on September 30, 2011 at 12:00 am