If you didn't know any better, you would think the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has returned to the days of three yards and a cloud of dust.
Todd Haley placed an emphasis on developing a physical offense during training camp by calling running plays that would remind you of the days of Bill Cowher and Jerome Bettis. The ground game continued to be the predominant feature of the offense during the the preseason as the Steelers ran the ball 75 times to only 43 pass plays—plus 10 sacks.
But that should change; the Steelers will prepare for the Buffalo Bills as though it were a regular-season game.
That means the starters will get plenty of action Saturday night. They should play at least a half—possibly even three full quarters.
"I want to see them execute," Coach Mike Tomlin told Steelers.com. "That's always the case, but particularly in this third game, they are going to work at least a half. I expect to see a quality half of football."
When Tomlin says he wants to see them "execute," he wants to see them execute as though they would in the regular season. Therefore, expect Haley to ditch the ground-and-pound attack for a more balanced approach.
The coaching staff has had plenty of opportunities to see what the team can do on the ground.
Through the first two preseason games, Roethlisberger has been solid, but not spectacular. Against the Eagles, he went 7-of-8 passing for only 49 yards, as he focused on throwing to the running backs. Roethlisberger followed up that performance by completing 5-of-9 passes against the Colts for 81 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The numbers are not terrible, but Roethlisberger is capable of much more and really hasn't been asked to do much in terms of throws down the field. Playing on the road against an improving defense will be the perfect test for Haley, Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense.
Haley can begin to design plays to combat the Bills pass-rush while not exclusively sticking to throwing to the running backs.
Roethlisberger needs to develop timing with his receivers—particularly on intermediate and deep routes. He has worked on a number of short passes, but these can be cleaned up as well; Roethlisberger threw an interception on a short pass attempt against the Colts.
It could even be possible that the Steelers finally start to get their tight ends—who largely have been ignored this preseason—involved in the passing game. Heath Miller has the opportunity to have a big season,—particularly in the red zone—but the Steelers need to get him the ball.
As is the case every week, it will be interesting to see how Haley integrates Chris Rainey into the offense. Rainey has 10 carries and four receptions over two games with mixed results.
The most important area, though, will be how the offensive line can perform under regular-season conditions.
Of course Haley will not unveil all of his offense, but this week will provide us with a preview of what's to come.
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