NFL Steelers hit All-Pro trifecta
Pittsburgh also placed three players on the AP All-Pro second team.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Days after the Steelers ended their dubious, season-long dalliance with a pass-heavy offense in 2003, Coach Bill Cowher promised to get back to their traditional strength: the running game.
That recommitment to the run was a prime reason for the Steelers' return to the NFL's upper echelon this season, and it was rewarded Thursday when left guard Alan Faneca and center Jeff Hartings made the AP All-Pro team.
Inside linebacker James Farrior also was chosen as the Steelers had three first-team NFL All-Pros for the first time since 1997.
The Steelers (15-1), idle this weekend as they await their second-round playoff opponent, also placed wide receiver Hines Ward, outside linebacker Joey Porter and safety Troy Polamalu on the second team during the best regular season in franchise history.
The 'O' line
One season after the Steelers finished next-to-last in rushing, they had two first-team All-Pro offensive linemen for the first time in team history. During their Super Bowl run in the late 1970s, center Mike Webster was their only All-Pro offensive lineman.
"It says a lot a lot about the guys who are here and the year we've had and everybody playing together," Faneca said. "It's a lot like the Pro Bowl, the better you are the more guys you get, and it's a little bit of a reflection of how you all played."
Hartings made it for the first time in his nine-season career, beating out Jets center Kevin Mawae by one vote, 18-17, in balloting by NFL writers and broadcasters.
"There's a few [All-Pro] guys who are standouts and are going to the Hall of Fame," Hartings said. "The rest of the picks usually come because you're playing around a lot of good players."
The voting also reflects the success of a running game that was so strong all season that three different running backs had 100-yard games: Jerome Bettis (6 games), Duce Staley (4) and rookie Willie Parker (1).
It's a remarkable turnaround from a year ago, when their line became such a mishmash due to injuries and poor play that Faneca, arguably the league's best guard, spent a half-season at left tackle. During a midseason game in Denver, line coach Russ Grimm rotated linemen from series-to-series in a desperate search for a workable mix.
This season, left tackle Marvel Smith, Faneca, Hartings, right tackle Oliver Ross and right guard Keydrick Vincent played every meaningful snap together as the Steelers rushed for 2,464 yards -- nearly 1,000 more than their 1,488 yards of 2003. That represented their worst rushing season since 1967.
Farrior the warrior
Farrior, a nearly unanimous selection by his teammates as the team MVP, enjoyed one of the most productive seasons ever by a Steelers linebacker. He led the team in tackles, forced five fumbles, recovered three, had four sacks and four interceptions.
"It's a nice compliment, but I'm not a guy who strives for individual accolades," Farrior said. "I'm a team player and if it's good for the team, it's good for me."
Farrior had a big season even though Pittsburgh's other starting inside linebacker, Kendrell Bell, missed nearly the entire season with injuries, forcing Farrior to adjust on the fly with new starter Larry Foote.
"A lot of guys come out and have bad games, but James is always above that," Foote said. "He's there every week."