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Steelers East face Steelers West

September 30, 2007|Bob Baum | Associated Press

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ken Whisenhunt was the early favorite to replace coach Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh. Then Russ Grimm thought he had the job.

It was not to be.

Now both former Cowher assistants are in Arizona, Whisenhunt as head coach, Grimm as his top assistant. They are trying to transform a long-suffering Cardinals franchise into what might be called "Steelers West."

Today, Arizona (1-2) faces the real thing when first-year Coach Mike Tomlin brings the unbeaten Steelers (3-0) to the desert.

The game has no special meaning, Whisenhunt insists, even though he spent six seasons as a Steelers assistant, the last three as offensive coordinator.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for that ballclub, that organization," Whisenhunt said. "It was very good to me. The players were great to me. I love the players on that football team and our relationship, but we moved on."

Grimm is Arizona's assistant head coach and offensive line coach, the same post he had the last three of his six seasons in Pittsburgh. He probably has the most reason to carry some resentment. He thought he had the job, only to find out a short time later that Tomlin had been hired.

"It's one of those things," Grimm said. "You work to get a chance to get in that position and, if you put your neck out there, it's not always going to turn out the way you want it. You get knocked down a little bit. I wouldn't say it's a disappointment. I enjoy what I'm doing, and I'm happy to be out here."

Arizona backup quarterback Kurt Warner, who had his own memorable return to St. Louis, isn't buying the "just another game" line.

"Inside, personally, there's no doubt you want to go out and show your friends and colleagues that you've come here and you've got a new thing. You're a force to be reckoned with," Warner said. "I'm sure it means a little bit more to them than they're letting on."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger politely said he had a good relationship with Whisenhunt, but he praised Tomlin.

"He's a player's coach," Roethlisberger said. "I know you hear that all the time, but he really is. I think the guys enjoy playing for him. They enjoy the enthusiasm that he brings. He's letting his coaches coach. I think that's kind of a breath of fresh air for both the coaches and the players."

Whisenhunt wants to build a run-oriented team, but everyone has trouble moving the ball on the ground against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has not allowed a back to gain 100 yards in 28 games. The Cardinals' Edgerrin James, then with Indianapolis, was the last to do it -- three years ago.

Whisenhunt said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau "has forgotten more about football than I know and probably ever will know."

Through three games, Pittsburgh has allowed 26 points, fewest in the NFL.

"Against these guys, it's hard to run the football. You know that going in," Whisenhunt said. "Hopefully, you can mix the run and the pass and get them a little bit off-guard."

The Steelers will have to be ready to defend two quarterbacks.

Second-year pro Matt Leinart is the starter, but last week Warner came in and ran a no-huddle offense that rallied Arizona to a 23-23 tie at Baltimore before the Ravens won on a last-second field goal.

"First, one's a lefty [Leinart] and one's a righty," Tomlin said. "You don't underestimate the differences in that when you talk about defending people."

Leinart didn't like being replaced, but said this week he has come to understand that he still is the starter.

"I'm going to go out there and be the player that I know I can be, and it starts this week," he said. "There's no worries. I'm going in with the mind-set that I'm going to throw 300 yards and three touchdowns."

If he does, it might not be with standout receiver Anquan Boldin as a target. The two-time Pro Bowler is listed as doubtful with a bruised hip.

The Cardinals' defense will have to contend with one of the top running backs in the NFL.

Willie Parker's 133-yard effort last week against San Francisco marked the fourth consecutive game he's topped the 100-yard mark. He leads the NFL in rushing with 368 yards, averaging five yards a carry.

James is second in the NFC with 277 yards, averaging 4.6 per attempt.

Pittsburgh's players certainly believe this is more than just another game to their former coaches.

"I know Whiz and Russ, they want this game more than anything, and we're trying to get to 4-0," said wide receiver Hines Ward, the four-time Pro Bowler who will sit out the game with a knee injury. "They know our personnel very well and know our tendencies and what we like to do. It's definitely going to be a challenge."

Arizona center Al Johnson is listed as probable after missing two games with a knee injury.

Pittsburgh has won 13 of its last 14 against NFC teams. The Steelers haven't started a season 4-0 since 1979.

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