Running it up: Steelers' offensive line has dominated Browns Print
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Thursday, 06 September 2007 15:14
NFL Headline News

 PITTSBURGH (AP) -Three days before the Pittsburgh Steelers open the season in Cleveland, new coach Mike Tomlin still wasn't saying for sure Thursday who his starting offensive line will be.
Maybe it's because the Steelers are playing the Browns, so it probably doesn't matter.
The Steelers have beaten the Browns like no other team since Cleveland re-entered the NFL in 1999, winning 13 of 14 and 14 of 17 overall, counting one playoff game.
The reasons for that domination are varied - Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger and Joey Porter are among them - but they ultimately center on a Steelers offensive line that has frequently taken control of a game early and never let go.
Home or road, early season or late, good weather or bad, the Steelers often dominate the line of scrimmage, thereby controlling the tempo and the clock.
And never did they do so more convincingly than Dec. 7, when an hour after a snowstorm whipped through Heinz Field on a cold, windy night, Willie Parker ran for a team-record 223 yards in a 27-7 victory. The Steelers outrushed the Browns 303-18.
The result was much the same the previous season, when the Steelers outran Cleveland 209-55 behind Parker's 130 yards during a 41-0 Steelers rout in Browns Stadium on Christmas Eve.
``That's something I can't answer,'' Parker said of his success against Cleveland. ``I just go out and play every game the same. I've had some good yards against the Browns ... but you have to play the next opponent like they are the best team in the NFL.''
Of course, All-Pro left guard Alan Faneca, left tackle Marvel Smith, center Jeff Hartings and right guard Kendall Simmons were responsible for much of that success. But Hartings is retired now, with former Tampa Bay lineman Sean Mahan taking his place, and there will be a new right tackle as Willie Colon replaces two-year starter Max Starks.
Tomlin has never officially disclosed that alignment, but that unit started the last several preseason games and there is no evidence that he is leaning any other way. Mahan was assured of starting when Chukky Okobi, once projected as the first-team center, was released last weekend.
How quickly, or how slowly, this reorganized line comes together could very well determine how the Steelers start the season.
The front-end schedule looks relatively soft with Cleveland, Buffalo, San Francisco and Arizona, at least compared to the remaining 12 games, and the Steelers understand how important it is to get out quickly.
Last year, they won their opener before dropping six of seven and were 2-6 at midseason, and even a 6-2 finish couldn't get them back into the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger had a rough season despite the strong second half, getting sacked twice as many times (46) as in the season before, when Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl.
``We're definitely further along now,'' wide receiver Hines Ward said. ``We all want to make sure 8-8 doesn't happen again. One of our goals is to make the playoffs and win the division, and what better way to start off than a divisional game and a rival.''
And against a team the Steelers outran by 285 yards the last time they met.
``Every game, every play, every season, the front five and the tight end are the catalyst for where we go, they're the engine for this thing,'' Roethlisberger said. ``Whether it's run blocking or pass blocking, they do such a great job all the time and I have confidence in them and I know they're going to get it done.''
Notes: In a surprise move, RB Carey Davis - cut four times by NFL teams in the last three years - will start at fullback ahead of eight-year veteran Dan Kreider, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. Davis gained 71 yards on eight carries during the preseason ... Tomlin has not practiced with crowd noise this week, as former coach Bill Cowher often did in similar situations. He may do so Friday ... Tomlin on his team's readiness: ``I like where we are in terms of preparation, so I feel good.'' ... Tomlin plans to have only one returner deep on kickoffs, almost certainly the newly acquired Allen Rossum.
 

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