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Steelers offense new, or is this just mind games?


The Steelers claim to have a new offensive strategy, but Jaguars cornerback Fernando Bryant is still expecting Jerome Bettis to carry the football.

"There will be some more things that we've kind of held back; not just particularly for this game, but for the first few games we feel will be an advantage to us," new Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey told Pittsburgh reporters Tuesday.

The Steelers are thought to have armed themselves with an offensive strategy similar to that of the New York Giants, who use multiple formations and shifting in an attempt to get the defense out of position. Are the Steelers really resorting to trickery?

"It's the same philosophy the Giants have," Bryant said. "They make you over-check and get you out of position. Jerome still has to touch the ball 30 times. You can't try to check every time they move. It slows you down."

In their new strategy, the Steelers may, for example, align the tight end in the backfield, then shift him up to the line of scrimmage. The idea is to catch the defense in a two-back technique.

"If the linebacker is on the wrong side, now you got 'The Bus' going downhill on the cornerback, and that could really be a problem," Bryant said with a smile.

Of course, Bryant would be that "cornerback," who at 5-10, 178 pounds and coming off a right shoulder separation, doesn't want to spend all of this Sunday afternoon taking the 255-pound Bettis head on.

Bettis is the constant in the Steelers offense. They can shift all they want, into any formation they want, but the ball eventually has to be put into Bettis' hands. It's Steelers football. It's how they play; some would say the only way they know how to play.

"You want new stuff?" Steelers head coach Bill Cowher asked reporters, chuckling. "I do, too, as long as the new stuff works. I don't know. Every time I hear Mike say that, I say, why are you saying that? We're going to do what we do."

So, what is all of this talk about "new stuff?" The Steelers also claim to be in the process of re-tooling their defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Is this all for real? Or is this an effort at gamesmanship?

"They haven't shown it in the preseason. Until game day, we won't know what they'll do," Jaguars middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson said.

Ainsley Battles is in the unenviable position of having been made the centerpiece of this great Steelers mystery. Battles was claimed by the Jaguars off waivers from the Steelers this past Sunday. Coach Tom Coughlin even admitted, "Now that we have him here, we'll ask him some questions."

"There's really nothing different," Battles said of the Steelers' new offensive strategy. "It's probably just the way they're getting to their plays. It might just be mind games. It might be trying to get people to prepare for a lot. Sunday, we'll see."

Battles isn't seeking a career in espionage or counter-surveillance. He just wants to play football. The Steelers said he couldn't do that in Pittsburgh.

"It's a tough position. I did go to the enemy's side, but it was Pittsburgh who released me. Whoever wants me, I'm going to give them everything I have mentally and physically. It's no animosity or hard feelings. It's just business," Battles said.

Mind games? The Steelers sure have spent a lot of time this week talking about a new offense they spent a preseason hiding.

"Man, you didn't see it all yet. We've got a lot of stuff in that we haven't used this preseason; a lot of movement," fullback Jon Witman said.

"What we really kept undercovers was misdirection. Usually, you break the huddle, go to the line and we might have one little basic move and run the play. Now, we'll break the huddle and the defense will have to move with us. There will be more motion," left offensive tackle Wayne Gandy said.

Mularkey, a former Steelers tight end, broke into coaching under Sam Wyche of "muddle huddle" fame. The Steelers even experimented with a no-huddle offense in their final preseason game.

"Don't let the buildup become such that it's going to be too dramatic. I don't want you to get let down and say, there was nothing new there," Cowher told reporters.

"I just want to get a 'W.' Whatever it takes to get a 'W' down there; make some third downs, move the sticks, keep their offense off the field and don't turn the football over. That may sound like old stuff, but that's good stuff. I'll take that over anything that's new and innovative that doesn't work," he added.

"They spent the preseason doing some different things. They definitely spent a lot of time working on their passing game. They're a good football team; a relatively deep team," Coughlin said of the Steelers.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.*


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