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: Oct 19, 2007
Posted on: August 28, 2011 10:14 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

poor little jack he is just a very sad and jealious guy because his ravens cant beat the steelers. His team is always second. Its ok little jack to be second didnt your mom teach you that? You dont have to try and say the steelers have all these big holes in their team how about your crappy aging defence with old man ray and reed? I will be enjoying watching brown and wallace run past them. and talk about holes your team dont have any wide recievers at all right?? who is going to catch the ball over there little jack? Maybe your boy wonder qb can throw it to himself. cant wait for the first game should be a blowout victory for the steelers.

Since: Nov 7, 2010
Posted on: August 28, 2011 10:08 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Flake,  That was good.  I give credit where credit is deserved!
Just having some fun with Squeeler Nation 

Since: Oct 16, 2006
Posted on: August 28, 2011 10:07 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Ah, Big Jack 70, I see you are a rookie around here. That's cool, so we'll take it easy on ya, but really, watch a little football and then get back to us. The Steelers are not only the defending AFC champs, having gone to 3 of the last 6 Superbowls, winning two, with a young O-line (anchored by a Pro Bowl guy in his second year), three young and explosive WR's (Wallace, Brown, Sanders), a future HoF QB who hasn't hit 30 yet, a 3rd year RB, and, oh yeah, that elite defense, which includes a couple of young stars at LB (Woodley, Timmons) and up and comers on the D-line (Hood, Heyward). Much to your chagrin I'm sure, the Steelers are not an old team, but are still an elite team, and will likely be challenging for yet more Lombardi Trophies over the next 3 to 5 years.

Since: Jun 17, 2010
Posted on: August 28, 2011 10:00 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

I am so excited this year and can not wait to see some games in Pitt. This has got to be are year!

Since: Jun 24, 2010
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:55 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Read flake13's post again...very carefully

I think that Big Jack's off a lot in his assessment of the Steelers

Since: Nov 7, 2010
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:52 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Squeelers have major question marks in their secondary that they have not addressed and will be expoited by a sound passing attack. You will see this out of the gate when the squeelers start the season when at best they start 2-2.  They will lose to the Ravens and the Texans, beat up on Seattle and maybe squeeler by the Colts maybe....

Patience Squeeler Nation...... get your towels out because you will need to twirl them everyday!

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:49 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

big jack is a ravens fan, its obvious he has jealousy issues and for a good cause Smile

Since: Aug 10, 2011
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:42 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

I'm not really sure what Big Jack is talking about.  He is very much mistaken on his assessment of the Steelers.  

Since: Aug 10, 2011
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:41 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

For sure the Steelers are stacked in all their skill positions.  Ben Roethlisberger is a very solid QB.  They have an absolute workhorse in Rashard Mendenhall.  Lastly, their receiving corps isn't just good, it's young too!  With the exception of Hines Ward of course, but they need a veteran to help the young receiving corps that will end up replacing him.  Steelers will be competitive for a long time.  

Since: Oct 20, 2008
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:41 pm

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever

Big Jack is a moron - Steelers have been the best organization in the NFL for years - they draft well, are coached well, and if they are healthy, can routinely be the BEST team every year -

Bengals?? Ravens?? pleeeeeeease...........they try to win divisions, WE WIN SUPERBOWLS!

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