Blog Entry

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Posted on: August 28, 2011 5:39 pm

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Steelers may have annual issues along its offensive line, but the passing game has been among the NFL's best during the Ben Roethlisberger era. Since drafting him 11th overall in 2004, Pittsburgh has ranked no worse than ninth in passing efficiency in six of seven seasons (as determined by the friendly eggheads at

But the outfit historically known for the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach to matriculating the ball down the field has been a mediocre running team over that time (their average rushing efficiency rank since '04: 14th in the NFL). If the first three weeks of the preseason is any indication, there's a great chance both units will improve in 2011, which is scary news for the rest of the AFC.

Roethlisberger has been near-flawless in three games that have no bearing on the standings but provide a glimpse of what's to come once the final scores count. He's 21 of 31 (67.7%) for 361 yards and four touchdowns, hasn't come close to throwing an interception, and his passer rating is an otherworldly 146.6. And while Ben's accustomed to showing well in the preseason, and having it carry over to the regular season (notable exceptions: offseasons involving near-death motorcycle accidents and league-sanctioned four-game suspensions), 2011 could be the year he unanimously joins the conversation as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 27: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season game on August 27, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Part of it will be because he's healthier than he was a year ago when the Steelers went 12-4 and lost to the Packers in the Super Bowl. But he also seems to be making better reads, throwing more accurately and playing with more poise. Oh, and not only is this the best group of pass-catchers Roethlisberger's ever seen in Pittsburgh, but arguably the most complete wide receivers corps in the league. (In regards to the former, the bar isn't particularly high -- this is a man whose three best wideouts during the 2005 Super Bowl season included Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El. The latter claim requires some justification, however, and that's what we aim to do.)

Roethlisberger still has Ward, but there's also the most explosive deep threat in the game, Mike Wallace; two young players who came out of nowhere to add depth as rookies last season in Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown; and recently signed Jerricho Cotchery.

A year ago, Wallace had 60 catches for 1,275 yards (a mind-blowing 21.0-yards-per-catch average) and 10 touchdowns. And while defenses would love to double- and triple-team him this season, they'll do so at their own risk because Brown has emerged as Wallace 2.0, but possibly more dynamic. He showed glimpses of talent during the second half of 2010, no play more memorable than his catch during the AFC Divisional Game against the Ravens, a 58-yarder on third and forever that sealed Baltimore's fate and Pittsburgh's place in the conference finals.

Heading into last offseason, Sanders was ahead of Brown on the depth chart. For the season, Sanders had 28 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and played well enough to take the No. 3 WR job from Randle El. But a broken foot suffered during the Super Bowl, and a stress fracture in his other foot that required surgery earlier this month, has kept Sanders on the sidelines while Brown has played like a Pro Bowler -- he has nine receptions for 230 yards (a 25.6 YPC average) and three touchdowns in the preseason, and he also ripped off a 51-yard kickoff return to start Saturday's game against the Falcons. Brown finished the evening with four catches for 137 yards, including a pair of touchdown grabs, one for 77 yards, the other for 44 yards.

More Steelers News

Three years ago, shortly after the Steelers used their first two draft picks on running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked why the team chose not to bolster the offensive line to protect Roethlisberger. At the time, his response might've sounded flippant, but in retrospect, the man knew what he was talking about.

“There are two schools of thought to protect a quarterback,” Tomlin said at the time. ”You can get linemen or you can get him weapons — people that people have to account for. Obviously with [the Mendenhall] pick, we’ve gotten a weapon. So what he is able to do on a football field will help our quarterback and our football team.”

The Steelers have drafted offensive linemen in early rounds since -- center Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, and because of injuries, rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert has seen time with the first team this preseason.

But Tomlin's larger point remains: defenses can choose to blitz Roethlisberger silly because of Pittsburgh's unexceptional offensive line, but it'll come at a cost in the form of big plays. On the other hand, defenses can choose to crowd the line of scrimmage in the hopes that the Steelers run, something they did with alarming frequency on first downs during the first half of 2010 (some of that can be attributed to a Roethlisberger-less offense during the first month of the season). But the Steelers now have the weapons to do something other than run Mendenhall into an eight-man wall.

But the running game, which has lagged behind the passing game in recent years, could also be effective this season. Part of the reason is that Mendenhall and Isaac Redman continue to get better. But it's also because defenses can't just load up the box to stop the run, and double-team Wallace because Ward and Randle El couldn't beat a linebacker in a foot race.

The emergence of Brown and Sanders, to go along with zone-busters Ward and Cotchery, create the sort of mismatches that lead to a lot of big plays and a ton of points. It will also open up running lanes for Mendenhall and Redman.

Teams will continue to blitz Roethlisberger, at least early in the season, just because he welcomes contact and the line continues to be the offense's weakest link. But at some point in the coming months, defenses might have to rethink that strategy. Eight-man fronts and constant pressure could be a thing of the past, which is what happens when, as Tomlin pointed out back in 2008, you surround your quarterback with a bunch of weapons.

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Since: Aug 21, 2011
Posted on: August 29, 2011 10:15 am
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Since: Jul 9, 2008
Posted on: August 29, 2011 10:15 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever


Did your last tooth fall out while creating this post?  You know as well as everyone else in the country that the Eagles are the third best team in the state behind the Steelers and Penn  Dirt bag! 

Since: Aug 30, 2006
Posted on: August 29, 2011 10:08 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Jealousy makes people say dumb

Anyway..nice pre-season so far...keep it ticking boys!

Since: Aug 21, 2011
Posted on: August 29, 2011 9:58 am
This comment has been removed.

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Since: May 25, 2011
Posted on: August 29, 2011 9:55 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

All27 Outs

I grew up in Pittsburgh in the hey day o fthe 70s and have lived through years of crappy play there too.  You certaily can't blame a fan for loving that their team wins more Super Bowls than any other team in the history of the NFL, can you?  I think that, i f you actually took the time to talk to fans old enough to have weathered the good and the bad, you will find we love the team for: their success, the rich tradidtion of football in Western PA and the integrity and accessability of the Rooney family.  They are truly 'top notch'!

Apparently, your team doens't possess these attributes? 

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: August 29, 2011 9:10 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

You are right, there are some bandwagon fans because people like rooting for a winner and the toughness of the Steelers. But the Steelers have the best hard core following in the league. I have lived all over the country and there is no place where people (including women) are more passionate and knowledgable about football than Western Pennsylvania. Eastern Ohio & Western Pa. is the birthplace of pro football and is part of the genetic makeup of the people there.

Why do Steelers haters always make excuses for losing? Flags, luck, dropped passes? Come on and just admit you lost. I don't make excuses for the '11 SB. A. Rodgers torched our secondary and we lost. Congrats to the Pack and the Steelers will try again this year.

I wish the season started this week. I remember the good days when Labor Day weekend kicked off the NFL Season. That was nice to watch the games and then have Monday off.  Enjoy the season everyone. Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!

Since: Dec 20, 2006
Posted on: August 29, 2011 8:00 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Ugh, why did I read this article?  What was the point of this piece?  I'm a Steelers fan, but all I got out of this was the feeling that someone wanted to slobber on the Steelers.  It is a change of pace-- most 'sports networks' like to ignore or dismiss the Steelers on a regular basis-- but still, I learned nothing here.  No breaking news, no inside information.

Perhaps football fans who do not follow the Steelers were unaware of just how potent this receiving corps is.  So was this more for Fantasy players?

In response to some of the 'hater' comments on here-- Yes, the post-Super Bowl letdown will be the Steelers' biggest obstacle this year, because there won't be many teams who will be obstacles on the field.  It's entirely possible the Steelers suffer another letdown year, but I do like their vibe in camp and pre-season.  I don't think the hangover is there.  They did lose the big game after all.

The Steelers aren't an old team-- the 'old team' talk seems to be the quick, easy cliche that is thrown around, but the lineup has almost changed entirely since SuperBowl XL.  Aside from Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger is now the oldest starting offensive player on the team, and he's only 30.  There is age on the defensive line, but we've already got really, really good young studs lined up behind them and taking snaps away from the starters.  As soon as the d-linemen step down, guys just as good are chomping at the bit to replace them. Aside from James Farrior, the rest of the defense still has a four or five year window (we will have to watch Troy Polamalu's injuries though).

And, yes, the Steelers struggle against the Patriots.  We simply match up poorly against them.  The Steelers have one main vulnerability-- they are not designed to deal with teams who throw a lot of quick underneath passes to third and fourth receivers.  If you have 3rd, 4th, or 5th receivers who get lots of balls on quick timing patterns from a smart, accurate QB, you can eat the Steelers up.  The Patriots do exactly that.  But there are very few teams with that scheme/personnel.
The O-line is getting better incrementally but still is not strong, especially at LT.  There are holes in the secondary, particularly at the number 2 CB spot.  So the team has weaknesses, but offensive weaponry is not one of them.  I guess that was the point of the article-- but I still don't know why it was written.  As a Steelers fan, the only thing I like less than reading 20 articles a week slobbering on the Pats, Colts, Jets or Chargers, it's reading a rare article slobbering on the Steelers.  More real news, less slobber.....

Since: Aug 27, 2010
Posted on: August 29, 2011 7:59 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever


Seems as if you're a sour fan that all he remembers are non-calls, calls, late hits, etc....You're a pussy. In Arizona, oh you mean the game where Jerry Jones paid off Neil O'Donnell to "accidentally' toss two of the most insane INTs in SB history. No worries, I ain't bitter. But when the Cowboys are ever good again, since it's been about 15+ years, be sure to let us all know.

The play the ENTIRE games. Not just pieces. The Cowboys may have been able to EASILY win the game you speak of, but there's one problem with your analysis.....THEY LOST

And Troy's lovely hair has 2 SB rings and another appearance. How's your boy Romo doing with that?

Typical Texas jackpie. Go jump out a plane pal.

Since: Feb 27, 2010
Posted on: August 29, 2011 6:13 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

You obviously didn't watch the Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls, or you were too young to understand what you watched. The Steelers won in 76 and were the better team...but the flags that didn't fly played a role in that game. The Steelers win in 79? A fantastic game the Steelers were lucky to win. And I'm not even talking about Jackie Smith's dropped pass; that game, EASILY, could have gone the other way. In Arizona, the better team won...

The thing that bugs me the most about many Steeler fans is that many of them are fair-weather, "I like them because they've won Super Bowls" fans. The others are usually women impressed by Polamalu's hair... Argue it if you want, but it's true, and you know it, there is a legion of unknowledgable football fans who love "their" Steelers. If YOU can't do that, then I'm sure you can tell us all about Troy's lovely hair.

Since: Mar 3, 2011
Posted on: August 29, 2011 5:21 am

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

They are definately a threat for the SB. As long as they don't play the Pats in the plaoffs, Belichek has the cheat sheets in order again finally. Let the "Spygate"  cyring commence. I love when you Steelers fans wimper and whine cause you can't beat the Pats in a playoff game, at home even.

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