A Tip of the Cap to former Steelers RB Barry Foster and His 1992 Season
Where Did This Guy Come From?
As I stated before, Barry Foster was probably known more for his “brain fart” at Candlestick on the kickoff as opposed to his running ability entering 1992. Furthermore, the Steelers as a whole came into that season as afterthoughts because of the following reasons: they had a new Head Coach in Bill Cowher, a mostly new Coaching Staff, a young roster, and were ultimately looked at as a mediocre team at best. Thankfully, that’s why they played the games, and Foster and the Steelers got out to a roaring start as Pittsburgh was celebrating its 60th season as an N.F.L. franchise.
Pittsburgh surprised the N.F.L. by going 6-2 over the season’s first 8 games and Foster was a huge reason why. Barry ran for over 100 yards in six of the games and had over 100 total yards in seven of them! Even when Foster made mistakes in the early going, he still came through. Despite fumbling 3 times against the Jets in Week 2, Foster ran for 190 yards on 33 carries and scored 2 TD’s. I still remember his 54 yard rush for the go-ahead score in the 4th Quarter that day when the score was dead-locked at 10 and the Steelers Offense had been sputtering. Just seeing a big guy move like that was a thing of beauty.
Foster’s show-case performance of the first half of ’92 though was during a Sunday Night Game against Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium when the 4-2 Steelers took on the 4-3 Chiefs. Needing a win to keep pace with Houston, Pittsburgh came out and dominated the Chiefs, and Foster pounded Kansas City’s stellar Defense led by Pro Bowlers Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas to the tune of 24 carries for 105 yards and a TD.
At the season’s halfway mark, Foster had gained 865 yards on the ground and was on pace to shatter Pittsburgh’s franchise record for rushing yards in a season set by Franco Harris (1,246 in 1975). Sure, Franco had to split some carries with Rocky Bleier that season and throughout his career. But what Foster was doing statistically as an individual in 1992 was nothing short of staggering.
Foster’s ’92 Helpers:
Don’t get me wrong, this article is meant to highlight Barry Foster’s fantastic 1992 season. Yet Foster did not accomplish everything by himself, and I feel like I need to highlight two important groups of people that were instrumental in helping Foster achieve greatness that season.
First of all, let me ask a simple question: What good is a RB without an Offensive Line to block for him? I think we all know the answer to that, so it’s of little shock that a great deal of credit must go to the Steelers’ 1992 Offensive Line which paved the way for Barry and helped a young Neil O’Donnell in the process.
In Neil O’Donnell’s first full season as a starting QB (he beat out Bubby Brister for good entering 1992), the Line’s great work and dedication to success in the running game allowed Foster and the rest of the backs to shoulder a great deal the Offensive burden and not let too much pressure fall upon O’Donnell, who was just needed to manage games at that point in his career. This in turn allowed for Barry Foster to simply do his thing and wear down opponents over the course of the game. It was sort of like what the Jets have done and tried to do with Mark Sanchez over the last couple of seasons. And like the Jets of ’09 and ’10, the Steelers’ O-Line of ’92 was excellent.
How good was this group for those of you that don’t remember? Each of the 5 starters made at least one Pro Bowl during their careers in Pittsburgh, and these maulers really helped the Steelers ground game excel in 1992. In fact, most of them stayed on for the rest of the 1990’s as Pittsburgh maintained its image as a “Power Running” juggernaut.
The statistics speak for themselves as Pittsburgh ranked #4 in Total Rushing Yards and #2 in Attempts in the entire N.F.L.. So kudos goes to Tackles John Jackson and Tunch Ilkin, Guards Duval Love and Carlton Haselrig, and future Hall of Fame Center Dirt Dawson. Credit also must go to backup Justin Strzelcyzk, who filled in for Ilkin when he went down for a spell with an injury that season and did nicely in his absence. Yet the Steelers’ Offensive Line wasn’t the only unit in 1992 that played a big role in Foster’s and the Steelers’ success.
Under new Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers (Dick LeBeau was DB Coach and Marvin Lewis was the LB Coach), “Blitzburgh” began to emerge.
Rod Woodson headed up the secondary with current Steelers Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake, and Darren Perry and D.J. Johnson had 11 picks between the two of them. Linebackers Hardy Nickerson, Greg Lloyd, David Little and Jerrol Williams were absolute terrors in the 3-4 scheme, and Gerald Williams, Kenny Davidson, and Donald Evans quietly and efficiently manned the front line.
The Steelers finished 2nd in points allowed (14.1 Points Per Game), finished tied for 1st with “The Dome Patrol” Saints in TD’s allowed (21), and 2nd with a +11 Turnover Ratio. This was a huge improvement over their 1991 Defense which gave up (21.5 Points Per Game was 22nd out of 28 teams) and had a 0 Turnover Ratio (11th in N.F.L.). The play of the terrific and improved Defense plus the extra possessions, led to Pittsburgh’s Offense and Foster taking full advantage all season long, and really helped them as they headed into the latter half of their schedule.
Foster’s “Finishing Kick” to 1992:
What I found most incredible about Foster’s success in 1992 to this day is that the Steelers were by no means a threatening passing team that season. Pittsburgh was ranked near the bottom of the League in Scoring (#15), Passing Yards (#23), Pass Attempts (#21), and TDs (#20), and their most threatening receiving target was the talented yet cantankerous TE Eric Green who was suspended for 6 games in 1992 for violating the League’s drug-policy and suffered a down year statistically.
The Wide Receiver corps in 1992 suffered from the loss of the 1980’s best Offensive weapon Louis Lipps after a contract dispute caused the team to cut him early in 1992. WR’s Jeff “Hot Hands” Graham (Little Giants Reference) and Dwight Stone (83 combined catches) did not strike much fear into the opposition as #1 and #2 guys. Ernie Mills and Yancey Thigpen were still young players and thus weren’t the ’95 versions of themselves that were so successful. With the issues in the passing game in 1992, much of the burden fell upon Foster (36 catches) and the Steelers’ other Backs like Hoge (28 catches), and Leroy Thompson (22 catches).
With Foster regarded as the Steelers’ best Offensive weapon in terms of rushing and also being a pass catching threat, it came as no surprise that keyed on him every week down the stretch in 1992. Yet even with extra attention, Foster simply pounded the rock and ran when his number was called when the weather got bad in the second half of the season.
Save for a bad outing in Chicago (12 carries for 25 yards), Foster was fantastic in Pittsburgh’s final 8 games. In fact, Barry was at the epicenter of Pittsburgh’s push for their first division title in 8 seasons. And it was Foster’s 103 yards per game rushing average and 6 TD’s on the ground (in the final 8) which helped to propel the 11-5 Steelers to an A.F.C Central Division Title.
Foster had a stretch during Weeks 11-14 where he loaded the Offense on his shoulders and a scoring machine during a 4 game winning streak for Pittsburgh. In Week 11 against the Lions, Foster ground out 106 yards and had 5 catches for 52 yards and played the decoy on the Steelers winning TD. With Neil O’Donnell hurting his hamstring in the 4th Quarter and the team down 14-10, a Goal Line fake to Foster left backup Bubby Brister with a lollipop throw to backup TE Tim Jorden for a TD to give the Steelers a 17-10 win! In Week 12 against Indianapolis, Foster had his best statistical day of the season in terms of total yards when he ran for 168 on 28 carries and had a 42 yard catch and run along with 2 TD’s. In Week 13 against the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium, Foster again rushed for 2 TD’s and had another 100 yard day on the ground (102 yards on 25 carries) as Pittsburgh dispatched the Bengals on a day that David Klingler was sacked 10 times. Finally in a classic trap against the Seahawks, Foster willed the Steelers to a victory in Week 14 after Neil O’Donnell fractured his right shin. Barry had an un-sexy yet efficient day and toted the rock 33 times for 125 yards and scored the game winning TD!
But Foster’s most impressive accomplishment from 1992 was the N.F.L. record that he tied in Week 17 against the rival Browns. Having rushed for 100 yards in 11 of Pittsburgh’s 15 games, Foster was 1 game short of tying Eric Dickerson’s League record of 12. But that Sunday, the guy that was supposed to be a backup in 1992 and was apparently not in the same company as “Whoops” Worley continued his amazing season.
In the waning moments of the game, Foster tied Dickerson’s record and finished the game with 26 carries for 103 yards and 1 TD. The then-N.F.L. record set by the Hall of Famer Dickerson in 1984 had been tied on that December day at Three Rivers Stadium by Barry Foster of all people!
When the Browns game ended and the final regular season statistics were tallied, the numbers next to Barry Foster’s name reflected how fantastic he was in 1992. So many adjectives can be uttered with regards to Foster’s statistics and accolades, and both are a testament to how important he was to Pittsburgh’s success that season. So without further ado, here they are:
Carries: 390 (Current Team Record)
Rush Yards: 1,690 (Current Team Record)
Receiving Yards: 344
Total Yards: 2,034
100 Yard Rushing Games: 12 (Current Team Record)
100 Total Yard Games: 14
30 Touch Games: 6
1992 Steelers M.V.P.
1992 UPI A.F.C. Offensive M.V.P.
To put it in perspective, Foster averaged 26 touches per contest in 1992 and accounted for 78% of the Steelers’ Rush Yards in 1992. More impressively, Barry’s 2,034 Total Yards averaged out to 41% of Pittsburgh’s total Offensive output that season as well! In fact, Foster’s 390 carries still rank 9th on the N.F.L.’s all-time list for total carries in a season!
Foster even had a nice game for the Steelers in their postseason loss. Despite getting trounced in the A.F.C. Divisional Playoff by Buffalo, Foster still had a great game when he rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries. Neil O’Donnell had 4 turnovers and the Steelers could not overcome his shoddy play in addition to Frank Reich and the Bills’ Offense’s efficient play. Regardless of the loss, the future still seemed bright for the Steelers’ new record holder for Total Yards in a single season Barry Foster and Pittsburgh as a whole.