Monday, October 31, 2011

Offense comes full circle on cue

Monday, October 31, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 30: Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers passes against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field on October 30, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Tell me if the next sentence does not look vaguely familiar.

The Steelers now face a critical appointment against the Baltimore Ravens with all the bulging confidence inherent in their established status as an elite force within the AFC, evidenced principally by an array of offensive weapons at the command of one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

In other words, we are all just about exactly where we were the week this football season started.

I thought so.

The clinical implosion of the New England Patriots, engineered Sunday by Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, fully catapulted the Steelers from the ditch the Ravens bullied them into in that bloody opener, but it did more than that.

"It showed we can come out with the best of them and throw," said Steelers wideout Mike Wallace. "We can do whatever we need to do to win a ballgame."

That's something on which the balance of power in the conference will now shift dramatically, because the Steelers staged a dazzling tactical seminar on how to withstand the blinding brilliance of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, et al.

Don't let them play.

Did you even see Tom Brady yesterday?

Only in fleeting glances, like three plays in the first quarter.

"If they have a long drive, our offense can't just go in there and do a three-and-out like we did," Brady said after losing in Pittsburgh for the first time in seven years. "We gotta do a better job than that. We made a lot of errors."

By fateful contrast, the Arians offense did not.

Passing on first down 10 of 11 times in the first quarter, Roethlisberger established that the Steelers had come to beat Brady by, off all things, out-Bradying Brady.

"We came in this week, and Bruce Arians just told us we were going to open up the offense," said Emmanuel Sanders, who caught five of Roethlisberger's season-high 50 passes, "and we did exactly what he said we were going to do.

"I like it. I love it."

Go 'head: He wants some more of it.

The deadly component for New England was that Roethlisberger's gun-slinging sacrificed nothing in the way of ball control. Rather, it enhanced it.

The Steelers scoring drives murdered the clock, lasting 5:54, 7:06, 5:39, 7:47, and 5:52. When Roethlisberger finally took a knee with 8 seconds remaining and a 25-17 final score calcifying on the Heinz Field boards, it meant the Steelers' offense had swallowed a phenomenal 39:22 of the 60 minutes.

"It was just about perfect," said quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, "and the best part is, there are still plenty of things we can correct."

Sure you can correct the odd impulse that had Roethlisberger badly under throw Sanders with a ball Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton gladly picked off and returned 17 yards to the Steelers' 8, setting up the first of New England's two touchdowns.

And you can correct the equally enigmatic series in which Arians allowed the quarterback to turn a second-and-11 at the New England 28 with two minutes to play into a fourth-and-30 by running around in his own backfield with the game hanging out of his pocket.

But, after the Steelers took a purposeful delay-of-game penalty to make it fourth-and-35, and Daniel Sepulveda jogged onto the field with only 28 seconds to play, it was the first time the offense had to punt all day.

Other than Guyton's pick and a missed 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham with six minutes remaining, the Steelers were successful on every possession, right from the moment Roethlisberger nailed Mewelde Moore with a precise slant pass for a 5-yard touchdown on the game's first drive.

The Steelers have scored a touchdown on their first possession in four consecutive games.

"Those guys were playing us so deep," said Wallace, who induces that very strain of fear in defenses. "When they do that, why not take the quick hitch or the drag routes. We really executed today on the medium routes.

"We can do whatever we need to do to win a ballgame."

Add a depleted defense that has nonetheless held seven consecutive opponents to 20 points or fewer, and the Steelers look as complete and as dangerous as they have since, well, Sept. 11.

It is possible that all yesterday means is that they are ready for Baltimore, but it feels a little more portentous than just that.

"It means we beat a good football team," said Brett Keisel, who swatted the ball out of Brady's hands to trigger a safety on New England's last possession. "I'm just so proud of everybody especially on the defense where so many guys are stepping in and playing for starters and we're still able to play winning football.

"That's what makes a great team. Hopefully, we're on our way."

Gene Collier: More articles by this author

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