Skip to main content

Sacks a worry, but Steelers making big plays in preseason

PITTSBURGH -- Watching all that videotape in the offseason, new coach Mike Tomlin no doubt came to this conclusion: To return to winning form, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to make more plays downfield.

Two preseason games and one unsatisfactory result later, Tomlin apparently reached the same conclusion. The offensive highlights of his team's efficient 20-7 victory over the Saints on Aug. 5 and a rather dreary 13-9 loss to Green Bay on Saturday night are obvious.

Ben Roethlisberger to Cedrick Wilson, 55 yards. Charlie Batch to Walter Young, 41 yards and a touchdown. Batch to Santonio Holmes, 49 yards.

"We continue offensively to get big plays in chunks," Tomlin said, pointing to one of the Steelers' few measurable positives against Green Bay. "You've got to be able to do that if you're going to be a dynamic offense. The splash plays are there for us."

A year ago, those plays weren't always there for the Steelers, who had a receiver gain more than 100 yards only four times in 16 games. Running back Willie Parker, by contrast, had seven 100-yard games (including two 200-yard games) during his 1,494-yard season - an offensive imbalance that illustrates how the Steelers leaned mostly on their rushing game for big plays.

Tomlin understands that can't keep happening, and he likes how the Steelers are throwing downfield effectively even though Roethlisberger and most of the offensive regulars have played only three series in two games.

"We're not game-planning yet," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "But, in two games, we've made some plays."

Parker's not making them, yet - he sat out a second game in a row with a sore knee and, despite returning to practice on Thursday following a nearly two-week layoff, he may not play Saturday at Washington.

Until Parker returns, the Steelers won't be able to mix the run and the pass the way Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians want to do so.

Arians "is giving us opportunities to look down the field for the deep balls," said Batch, whose two long completions came against Green Bay.

"The offensive line is doing a good job of protecting and the receivers are doing a good job of getting open."

That offensive line allowed two early sacks by the Packers' Cullen Jenkins - one of Roethlisberger with Marvel Smith at left tackle and the other of Batch with Max Starks at left tackle - and five overall.

That was a recurring problem last season as Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, twice as many as the previous year. But in the preseason, the Steelers attribute the sacks to frequent substitutions.

"We have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback, especially on the edges," Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger lost a fumble while being sacked and running back Najeh Davenport couldn't convert on a third-and-1 during the quarterback's two series Saturday. Roethlisberger lobbied Tomlin to give him another series, but the coach didn't give in.

"Hopefully, that will put an edge on that first unit as we go to work this week, and I'm sure it will," Tomlin said. "I'm already starting to get that sense from No. 7 (Roethlisberger) that he's got a little edge to him going into this week. He wanted another shot at it to go back out there and we didn't give it to him. We told him that hopefully that will light his fire and get that group going."

The Steelers also have spent considerable time on special teams, far more than they devoted under former coaches Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll. Apparently, it's not been enough.

Jeff Reed's extra point kick was blocked after the Steelers' lone touchdown Saturday, and Tomlin wasn't happy.

"We have a glaring weakness in our PAT protection," Tomlin said. "In this league, if you're not sure in any aspect or facet of your game, people are going to attack you. It's obvious based on the two tapes we've put out there that we've got to address that, and we will. You've got to make problems like that disappear."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.