1 Pittsburgh Steelers With three game breakers at wide receiver, look for Tommy Maddox to go over the top

August 31, 2003

Opponents should be afraid of the Steelers' passing game. Very
afraid. Here's an illustration of why this unit is now the
scariest on a Super Bowl-contending team. Early in camp the
first-team offense, with three receivers and one back on the
field, lined up against the first-team defense. Split right, 6'5"
wide receiver Plaxico Burress drew double coverage from a safety
and a corner. In the slot speedy Antwaan Randle El squared off
against a corner, with nickel help ready. Split left, crafty
possession wideout Hines Ward had one corner on him. Tommy Maddox
took the snap, and Ward sprinted 18 yards downfield, shadowed by
Dewayne Washington. Two steps before Ward began his cut to the
outside, Maddox threw a soft, catchable pass. The ball hung in
the air, and Ward ran a precise route that left Washington
lunging. After one more step Ward turned his head, and the ball
was right on him. The throw could not have been more perfect,
settling in Ward's breadbasket as he got both feet inbounds. "He
could make that throw in his sleep, and I could catch that ball
in my sleep," Ward said later.

In a break from tradition Pittsburgh will try to live by the pass
in 2003. That's partly because--and this will sound sacrilegious
from Sewickley to Squirrel Hill--Ward and Burress, complemented
by the emerging Randle El, are more threatening to defenses than
Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were in their
prime. "I think it might be the hardest group of receivers in the
league for a defense to match up against," coach Bill Cowher
says. "You've got the all-around ability and speed and toughness
of Hines, the size and athleticism of Plaxico and a really
dynamic young kid in Antwaan, who's becoming a polished route
runner."

Last year Ward and Burress combined for 190 catches, 2,654 yards
and 19 touchdowns. In their best season together, 1979, Swann and
Stallworth caught 111 passes for 1,991 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Yes, the game has changed over the last 25 years, but the
comparison is valid. Pittsburgh quarterbacks threw for only 159
more yards in 2002 than they did in '79.

Ward, 27, Burress, 26, and Randle El, 24, have handled all sorts
of exotic defenses, including ones in which Ward and Burress were
routinely double-teamed. Even when teams played overly physical,
the three wideouts hung tough and avoided injuries. In eight
seasons combined, Ward and Burress have missed only four
games--all by Burress, when he was a rookie--because of injury.

Maddox, a pocket quarterback with a quick release, completed
62.1% of his passes last season, and that number only figures to
go up with the addition of tight end Jay Riemersma, who was
released by the Bills in a salary-cap move last February. The
Steelers haven't had a good pass-catching tight end in years, but
Riemersma, one of the game's best, gives opposing defenses one
more thing to worry about.

But what really gets this team pumped about its offensive
potential is the thought that it no longer has to fear having to
come from behind. The players believe Maddox, who started 11
games last season, won't make the big mistake nearly as often as
his predecessor, Kordell Stewart, did. (Stewart was released by
Pittsburgh last February; he signed with the Bears.) "I have so
much confidence in Tommy," says offensive coordinator Mike
Mularkey. "He's proven himself time after time, and I'm
comfortable with him in every situation."

Of course, all that won't matter if the Steelers' defense plays
as poorly as it did at the end of last season. In its final three
games, including two in the playoffs, Pittsburgh surrendered 31,
33 and 34 points to the Ravens, the Browns and the Titans,
respectively, none of whom were offensive juggernauts. But Cowher
can usually make quick repairs to his defense. And Steelers fans
know that, while this team shouldn't have to score 30 points to
win on Sunday, it can if it has to. --P.K.

COLOR PHOTO: PHIL COALE/AP DOUBLE TROUBLE Ward is a reliable possession receiver who is also known for throwing crushing downfield blocks. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS RIEMERSMA COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

After 40 starts at right tackle, MARVEL SMITH moves to the left
side, replacing Wayne Gandy, who went to the Saints in free
agency. The left side is doubly important because Smith will
protect the blind side of the immobile Tommy Maddox. With
September games against the Ravens and the Titans, Smith will get
tested early.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"I think [running back] Jerome Bettis is finished. I know the
off-season went well for him and he feels good now, but I don't
trust his knees to stay right. That puts pressure on Amos
Zereoue. He's going to be the starter, but he hasn't proved that
he can be durable enough to be an every-down guy.... I like their
offensive line, but I don't know if Oliver Ross is quick enough
to handle the right-tackle spot for 16 games.... They made a
great pickup in Jay Riemersma. I look for them to play more
two-tight-end sets with one back, with Riemersma as the receiving
tight end and Mark Bruener as the blocker.... The biggest
question with those great wide receivers is whether Tommy Maddox
can do it for a full season. He looked great last year, but
that's still a huge question.... On defense, Kendrell Bell coming
back healthy should make all the difference to the pass rush.
He's one of the few inside linebackers in the league who can be a
scary pass rusher.... The drafting of [safety] Troy Polamalu was
brilliant for that defense because the secondary is so average.
His physical play should make receivers nervous when they go over
the middle."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 BALTIMORE
14 at Kansas City
21 at Cincinnati
28 TENNESSEE

Oct. 5 CLEVELAND
12 at Denver
19 Open date
26 ST. LOUIS

Nov. 2 at Seattle
9 ARIZONA
17 at San Francisco (Mon.)
23 at Cleveland
30 CINCINNATI

Dec. 7 OAKLAND
14 at N.Y. Jets
21 SAN DIEGO
28 at Baltimore

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 26
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .473
Games against playoff teams: 6

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 10-5-1
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 9/7/5
DEFENSE 1/20/7

COACH: Bill Cowher; 12th season with Pittsburgh (109-66-1 in NFL)

AMOS ZEREOUE

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 43 193 762 3.9

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
42 341 8.1 4

TOMMY MADDOX

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 46 377 234 62.1

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
2,836 20 16 85.2

DAN KREIDER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 367 6 16 2.7

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
18 122 6.8 1

HINES WARD

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 23 112 1,329 12

JAY RIEMERSMA[1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 210 32 350 0

MARVEL SMITH

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'5" 308 lbs. 16 16

ALAN FANECA

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'5" 305 lbs. 16 16

JEFF HARTINGS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'3" 295 lbs. 12 11

KENDALL SIMMONS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'3" 313 lbs. 14 14

OLIVER ROSS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'5" 309 lbs. 16 1

PLAXICO BURRESS

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 39 78 1,325 7

DEFENSE

RE KIMO VON OELHOFFEN 22 tackles 3 sacks
NT CASEY HAMPTON 41 tackles 2 sacks
LE AARON SMITH 70 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
OLB JOEY PORTER 89 tackles 9 sacks
ILB KENDRELL BELL 50 tackles 4 sacks
ILB JAMES FARRIOR 77 tackles 0 sacks
OLB JASON GILDON 67 tackles 9 sacks
CB DEWAYNE WASHINGTON 54 tackles 3 int.
SS MIKE LOGAN 36 tackles 1 int.
FS BRENT ALEXANDER 75 tackles 4 int.
CB CHAD SCOTT 81 tackles 2 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K JEFF REED 282 10/11 XPS 17/19 FGS 61 PTS.
PR ANTWAAN RANDLE EL 184 37 RET. 6.9 AVG. 0 TDS
KR ANTWAAN RANDLE EL 184 32 RET. 22.9 AVG. 1 TD
P JOSH MILLER 55 PUNTS 41.2 AVG.

[1] New acquisition
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"Bell is one of the few inside linebackers in the league who can
be a scary pass rusher."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)