New Castle News

Closer Look

September 24, 2012

Steve Treu on the Steelers: Silver lining amid silver-and-black setback

NEW CASTLE — This one may come back to haunt them, of course.

September losses, especially inside the conference, often look much worse in December when postseason positioning is on the line.

But if the Pittsburgh Steelers are to even make the playoffs this season, yesterday’s 34-31 loss at Oakland may turn out to be a turning point in a positive direction for one important reason.

They seemingly figured out what to do with their offense.

Air Ben.

OK, it was against the Raiders’ defense, one hampered by injuries, and that cannot be discounted from the equation.

Yet, the decision to attack so much through the air was a welcome sight, hearkening back to offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s high-flying days with Kurt Warner in Arizona as opposed to his ineffective run-oriented offensive stint in Kansas City. And putting to rest any concerns you should have about this team committing to the run when there isn’t one.

This is Ben Roethlisberger’s team to lead in every way he can. (It’s just a shame he can’t help put pressure on the other team’s quarterback.)

On one side of the ball, there was a lot to like about this game.

You gotta like 36 for 49, 384 yards, four touchdowns — counting the one Antonio Brown fumbled and recovered as a passing score — no interceptions, a 123.2 rating and 31 points from your offense.

You gotta like stud wideouts Brown and Mike Wallace combining for 15 receptions and 210 yards.

You gotta like 10 different players catching the ball, a huge number of targets that underscores the strength of this team.

And you gotta really love Roethlisberger going to Heath Miller so often. He collected 60 clutch yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions, his highest number of grabs in his past 47 games.

Forget about establishing the run every week, establish Miller. He’s been underutilized in the passing game his whole career. His presence over the middle and in the red zone loosens things up for the run, something Tom Brady has perfected in New England throughout his career.

It’s now more clear than ever that the Steelers should abandon the ground game. Everything they did yesterday worked, from quick outs to five wides to the no-huddle to scrambles turned into big plays ... it was vintage Big Ben.

Much to the dismay of Pittsburgh purists, teams can win this way in the NFL. The Packers, Saints, Colts and Patriots have all won Super Bowls in the past decade with elite quarterbacks and pass-first offenses.

Add to that Mike Tomlin’s bold decisions in critical situations — including throwing on fourth-and-1 on their first possession and going for it on fourth-and-1 in their own territory on their last possession — and the personality of this team started to take an interesting shape yesterday. On one side of the ball, at least, it felt downright Belichickian.

Steelers fans should hope it stays that way.

As for that defense, they should hope for a backward pass to 2008, when this team last had a great blend of veteran leadership, youthful enthusiasm and opportunistic ball hawks.

Don’t count on the return of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison to cure all that ails them, either. They are both aging and injury prone. They should be a boost, but three weeks in the makeup of this team is clear.

The Steelers are going to have to win a lot of games 31-27 if they plan on playing deep into January.

(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)

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