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Pick: ride the Bus or roll with Duce



Published: Tue, January 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Bill Cowher needs only look to the New York Jets' sideline to understand how tricky and troublesome it can be deciding how to spread playing time between two productive running backs in the playoffs.

That's why the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach isn't choosing yet between the Duce or the Bus -- Duce Staley or Jerome Bettis -- as his primary running back for Saturday's divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh against the Jets.

Cowher wouldn't speculate when pressed by reporters Monday, cutting short questions about an issue that has already caused friction with Pittsburgh's opponent.

"We'll see," Cowher said. "They're both going to play. I can't make any predictions right now."

Touchy subject

Cowher watched on TV as Jets coach Herman Edwards and running backs coach Bishop Harris had a heated exchange during New York's dramatic, 20-17 overtime victory Saturday night in San Diego. The disagreement may have resulted from Edwards' edict that running back LaMont Jordan become more involved in an offense led by NFL rushing champion Curtis Martin.

If Cowher has told his staff whether Bettis or Staley should get most of the carries, he's not saying -- and, almost certainly, won't do so publicly. Bettis would seem to be the logical choice given his recent production and Staley's relative lack of carries since the first half of the season.

"When you have two backs, it's not easy to keep them both involved," said Cowher, who was discussing the Jets' situation but also could have been talking about his own. "Sometimes there's a fine line, trying to keep people involved and wanting to get them a feel for the game, but at the same time getting the other guys in. It's not always an easy thing to juggle."

Staley vs. Bettis

Staley started seven games before injuring a hamstring Oct. 31 against New England, during his fourth 100-yard game in five weeks. He has only 41 carries for 123 yards since, including eight for 21 yards Jan. 2 against Buffalo.

Bettis, used mostly as a goal-line runner early in the season, responded to Staley's absence with six 100-yard games in six starts. But a sprained ankle kept him out of the Buffalo game and might have hindered him had the Steelers played last week.

Bettis' comeback -- the NFL's No. 5 career rusher didn't begin either of the last two seasons as a starter -- has been one of the surprising subplots of the Steelers' unexpectedly good 15-1 season.

"He's made a lot of concessions. He's been the ultimate team leader," Cowher said. "He's been very inspirational for this team. ... You're talking about a [potential] Hall of Fame player who became a role player and a great example for a lot of players on this team."

Bettis led the Steelers' 17-6 win over the Jets on Dec. 12, replacing an ineffective Staley to throw for a touchdown and run for another in the fourth quarter.

Steelers vs. Jets

The Steelers are 6-0 in Pittsburgh against the Jets and 15-2 overall, losing only during two of Pittsburgh's worst seasons in the last 35 years (1988, 2003). Not that it matters to Cowher, who recalls only how physical and tightly played last month's game was.

The Jets outgained the Steelers 296-262 but couldn't take advantage of two interceptions thrown by rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Afterward, as the two coaches shook hands, Cowher said to Edwards, "We'll probably see each other down the road."

"It's going to be a grind just like it was the last time we played them. We know it," Cowher said. "We knew it going in the last time and we didn't feel any differently coming out of it."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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