By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tommy Maddox threw for 3,414 yards in 2003 == third most in franchise history == and the Steelers still went 6-10.
The game of football has been a simple equation for the Steelers through the years. Run = Victory. Pass = Disaster.
That's why it makes some people, inside the organization and out, a little nervous whenever they hear about the plans for the new Steelers offense to be more wide open.
More passes often mean more defeats for the Steelers.
Start with 2003, when they became enamored with the idea that quarterback Tommy Maddox could pass them into a Super Bowl. They averaged 93.0 yards rushing that season -- the only time in the past 40 years they averaged less than 100 -- and 206.5 passing and finished 6-10.
They returned to the ground game the next two seasons and led the league with a 154.0 average and went 15-1 in 2004 and averaged 138.9 in 2005 and won a Super Bowl.
Last year, they came within 67 yards of a team record when they threw for 4,026 gross yards -- and finished 8-8.
The logical conclusion would be to pack it in and run the ball more, not open things up and practically make the fullback vanish.
Few players, however, would agree, and none believes the Steelers will return to the Tommy Gun offense where they abandon the run in favor of the pass.
"I think Pittsburgh will always be a run-oriented team," Hines Ward said. "But I think we're going to find ways to be more ball control -- we don't have to just run, run, run and then try to convert third downs. We're going to pass on first and second downs and try to pick up a first down on first and second down instead of just being predictable."
That, quarterback Charlie Batch noted, is how they reached the Super Bowl after the 2005 season. Defenses in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver expected to see the usual formula from the Steelers' offense -- run, get a lead, and then run some more to protect it. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger came out throwing, and they caught defenses by surprise.
"I look at it more of how we kind of attacked teams during the playoff run in '05," Batch said. "We threw it early in the first half and then we were able to pound it out in the second half. I can kind of see that track happening this season, where you still get your attempts."
There's little doubt the Steelers' philosophy on offense will change, though. At times, they will look like the Oakland Raiders when they throw it deep. At others, they will take on a West Coast offense look, using the pass to control the ball in short spurts. A 4-yard gain, the theory goes, is the same whether it comes by run or by pass.
Even an old guard is convinced that getting away from the old tried-and-true, black-and-blue is the right way to go.
"I think we're definitely getting a step away from it," Alan Faneca said. "I don't know how many steps, but it's definitely going to be different. Teams are definitely going to have to play us differently. They can't sit on that, strictly come in and say we have to stop the run. That's going to force them to play us differently."
There will be more use of the no-huddle and quarterbacks calling their own plays, and more one-back sets with Willie Parker and four receivers. Coordinator Bruce Arians is convinced it's the best way to go, and he has convinced his players of it, too. (well, I'll remain optimistic)
"When people say 'open up the offense and we're going to pass more,' that's not the sense," Ward said. "Bruce Arians loves to run the ball, no question about it. We're going to stick to our run, but we're going to do it different ways. We're going to be more balanced this year.
"It's going to be hard for a lot of defensive coordinators to really key on us because we're coming out in four-wide personnel -- we still run the ball out of four wides and we've picked up good yardage by spreading the field out and opening holes for our running back.
"Are we going to pass 50 times a game? No, but we are going to be more ball control and we're going to take our shots down the field. That's something Bruce Arians always does as a coordinator. When we played Cleveland here in the playoff game, he took his shots. If it weren't for one guy dropping the ball, they'd beat us in the playoffs."
The Steelers came from behind in the fourth quarter to win that game in Heinz Field, 36-33, Jan. 5, 2003, when Arians was the Browns' offensive coordinator.
It's the only time the Browns have made the playoffs since their return to Cleveland in 1999. Now, Arians has brought that offense to the Steelers.
"I'm excited about our offense," Ward said. "I know Willie, the receivers, the tight ends are all excited about making plays. We can't wait until the season starts."