After a terrific first season at Foxboro, stiff-arm specialist Corey Dillon had a rough time with Oakland and Carolina. In advance of the 4pm game in Pittsburgh, the ever hopeful Ron Bourges of the Boston Globe wonders if this is the begining of the end for the former Bengal.

Corey Dillon is off to a painfully slow start, producing roughly half as many yards per carry as he did a year ago in his first season with the Patriots. Not surprisingly, this has raised questions, and the answers could be among a host of things.

It could be the play of an offensive line still getting used to personnel changes and the regular shuffling in and out of rookie tackle Nick Kaczur every two or three series. It could be that Dillon has simply not yet adjusted after slimming down a bit to add quickness and thus his timing is off. Or it could be just that the front lines of the Raiders and Panthers played stoutly and left Dillon with little running room.

Then again, it could be something more troubling. It could be the calendar.

If it is any, or even all, of the first three reasons, Dillon has a solvable problem. If it is the latter, however, this could be a long season for him and the Patriots’ running game, as it once was for Eddie George in Tennessee, Earl Campbell in Houston, and a long march of other backs before them, because the odds are stacked heavily against any runner in the NFL once he turns 31, as Dillon will Oct. 24.