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Steelers' Moore brings a lot to team offense

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By Scott Brown
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009
 

Mewelde Moore took the handoff from Ben Roethlisberger, pulled up and fired a bullet to Heath Miller in the back of the end zone Sunday night.

A more conventional play Moore made earlier in the drive led to his first NFL touchdown pass. On third-and-4 from the Steelers' 36, Moore caught a 5-yard pass from Roethlisberger to keep the drive alive — one he capped with the throw that gave the Steelers their final touchdown in a 38-28 win over the San Diego Chargers.

Players who specialize in shaking free of linebackers and defensive backs to catch critical third-down passes and also pick up blitzers when they stay in the backfield to block are becoming rarer.

But even with roles in the backfield becoming increasingly blurred — more teams are employing rotations with interchangeable players — the third-down back will never become an endangered species. The reason: good ones such as Moore are simply too valuable.

"That's a very special cat," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "I think of the great ones like a Ronnie Harmon, Todd McNair, and I think 'Mo' has really put himself in that situation."

Moore and players of his ilk are difficult to defend because they often have deceptive power as well as the speed and shiftiness to excel in open space. They also have reliable enough hands for quarterbacks to dump the ball off to them if they are under duress or don't have anyone open downfield.

"It creates a list of matchup (problems), because who are you going to put on them?" Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said of third-down backs. "You've got a guy that's almost like a wide receiver. You don't want a (line)backer or D-lineman on him, but if you put a (defensive back) on him, he's bigger than him. You have to account for them more than you would anybody else."

The Steelers recently found that out the hard way.

With the Cincinnati Bengals facing a fourth-and-10 late in a Sept. 27 game against the Steelers, quarterback Carson Palmer dumped the ball off to Brian Leonard over the middle.

Leonard, who had gotten a step on Pro Bowl linebacker James Farrior, picked up 5 more yards that helped the Bengals get a first down. The play set up Carson Palmer's game-winning touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell.

Plays such as the one Leonard turned in are what have made Kevin Faulk an important part of the New England Patriots' offense.

Faulk, in his 11th season, has never put up gaudy numbers. But, he has over 3,000 career yards both as a rusher and receiver, and no one appreciates him more than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

"He's exactly what you're looking for, and there's a reason why he's the longest-tenured Patriot on our team," Brady said of Faulk. "He's got incredible hands; he's got incredible awareness. If he gets out in a route, I know he's going to be open."

Like Faulk, Moore is from Louisiana.

He met Faulk when he starred at Tulane and the Patriots played in the 2001 Super Bowl in New Orleans.

These days, Moore does a pretty good imitation of Faulk, as he also is a multifaceted threat, particularly when serving as a third-down back.

"It's not a glorified position, but we enjoy what we do," said Moore, who signed with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent in 2008. "We have a niche, and we take that little niche and run with it."

Additional Information:

Special(ized) players

Third-down backs are valuable, if at times overlooked, parts of NFL offenses. Here are five who have thrived in that role:

Kevin Faulk, Patriots -- Set the standard for third-down backs, and the 11th-year veteran shows no signs of slowing down.

Brian Leonard, Bengals -- Quickly becoming a valued security blanket for quarterback Carson Palmer in Cincinnati.

Mewelde Moore, Steelers -- Also stood out when pressed into action as a start because of injuries.

Jerious Norwood, Falcons -- Had more than 800 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2008.

Chester Taylor -- Arrival of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota changed his role, and Taylor now excels at it.

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