Shut Out of Browns Gives 2008 Steelers Playoff Momentum

With Ben Roethlisberger apparently on the mend the Steelers 31-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns will soon fade from memory and into the history books. Nonetheless, before turning to AFC Divisional playoff game the let’s take a look at some of the game’s highlights.

Hines Ward Breaks the 1000 Yard Barrier

What else can you say about Hines Ward?

Although he was a third round pick in 1998 after having played three positions at Georgia, the man began his career with the Steelers as an afterthought. He Lead the team in receptions his second season only of find himself opening his third season on bench behind Tory Edwards and Plaxico Burress.

The man simply gets it done. The Steelers rewarded him with a lucrative, long term contact extension in 2005 and Ward returned the favor with his Super Bowl XL MVP performance. He did, however, fail to reach the 1,000 yard mark in each of the past three years, each season saw him play one fewer game, and his yards per catch average appeared headed for single digits….

…Going into 2008 the word was “Hines Ward is losing a step…”

  • Except someone forgot to tell Hines Ward.

Actually, someone did tell him, and he uses that motivate himself. All Ward did was what he has done throughout career: Come up with big catches at key moments during big games. Along the way he hauled in 81 catches for 1,043 yards and increased his yards per catch average to 12.9.

And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also caught his 800th pass.

Dennis Dixon Sees Some Time

And speaking of Ward’s 800th catch, it was thrown to him by none other than rookie Dennis Dixon. The choice of Dixon in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft raised eye brows here and elsewhere, but consensus was that he was a steal so late in the draft.

During training camp speculation was rampat that Dixon would take on a Kordell Stewart “Slash” like role, and the team even prepared a package with that in mind. That role never emerged, and Dixon saw his first action in the 4th quarter against Cleveland, going 1-1 for three yards.

Fast Willie Parker Finishes the Way He Starts

Its been a long, tough year for Willie Parker. Parker was injured last year against St. Louis, but showed no signs of slowing in the first two games of the year as he ran for well over 100 yards in both. He got hurt against Philly, and missed several games due to injury.

Since his return he has not been nearly as effective. He seemed to miss the burst and the ability to get the tough yards that he once got, and Willie Parker’s role as a starter began to be questioned by the fans and the media.

Willie Parker lit up Cleveland running 23 times for 116 yards – giving him five yards per carry. Steelers fans must consider the context – a weak Cleveland run defense that had nothing to play for – but Paker’s strong performance was nonetheless encouraging.

Arians Gets a Clue?

Bruce Arians has found himself in Steelers Nation’s bulls eye for much of the year, and for good reason. His commitment to the run has been questionable, as has his insistence on attempting to run through a two tight end formation.

Journalist Jim Wexell has repeatedly hammered Arians on the later point, filling his “Just My Opnion” columns in the Steelers Digest with example after example of how the Steelers simply run better out of other formations.

For large portions of the Browns game, however, Arians deployed the power I formation, featuring Willie Parker and H Back Sean McHugh at the full back position. The result was five rushers who totaled 176 yards. Hardly Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier like production, but impressive even when you account for the competition.

One can only hope that Arians, or at the very least, Mike Tomlin learned something from the experience.

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