Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers: Observations on the Pittsburgh Offense

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Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers: Observations on the Pittsburgh Offense
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 27: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown pass 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)

In another game that lifted the spirits of Steeler fans, the boys in black and gold handed the Fabulous Falcons a receipt with a big L on it.

It is, of course, still the preseason. We all know that what happens in the preseason all-too-often stays in the preseason. As, for example, when the Detroit Lions won all four of their preseason games in 2008 and didn't manage a single win during the regular season.

But it is also generally agreed that the preseason game that means the most is Week 3, when the starters see a lot more time on the field. So let's look at how they did.

QB Ben Roethlisberger played 27 snaps—in other words, the entire first half of the game. During that time he completed 11 passes for 214 yards, scrambled twice for 14 yards, was not intercepted and posted a 151.0 QB rating.

It is interesting to note which players Roethlisberger was targeting for those 11 receptions. Few of them were the usual suspects.

TE Heath Miller was not targeted at all. None of the backs were targeted, unless we're considering TE David Johnson as a FB now. He caught both passes thrown at him in the first series.

The No. 1 and 2 receivers, Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, were targeted seven times (two for Wallace, five for Ward) but only represent three of the completions (two for Ward, one for Wallace). Arnaz Battle caught both passes thrown to him.

The remaining five attempts were to Antonio Brown, who made the most of them with four receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns.  Combined with his opening kick return for 51 yards, it was a big night for Brown.

Only the silly taunting penalty he incurred on his first touchdown took a bit of the shine off his stellar performance. After the dressing-down he got from Coach Tomlin, I don't expect he'll do it again. After the game Brown stated: "That won't happen again. That's not Steelers football." 

The running game didn't put up big numbers. But Rashard Mendenhall put the first touchdown on the board, 1:24 into the first quarter. He was wide open, too, and looked like he wanted to run a lot farther than the required one yard.

There were only eight run plays in the 27 snaps the first team played, representing about 30 percent of the plays. (That does not include Roethlisberger's scrambles.)

There are those who are very concerned by those numbers and fear  the vaunted Steelers grind-it-out style is dead and gone. However, it is always a mistake to draw any firm conclusions about such things during the preseason. I believe the coaching staff is more concerned about how the offensive line is functioning during passing plays than running plays.

Furthermore, I think that they have a great level of comfort with what Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman can do. Thus it makes a lot of sense to test the offensive line in the passing game rather than the running game, while running just enough to keep the defense honest.

As seems to be the norm in Pittsburgh now, the starting offensive line was different from the other two games in the preseason, and continues to change. Marcus Gilbert, this year's second-round pick, started in place of the (presumably) still-injured Jonathan Scott. Chris Kemoeatu was back at LG for the first time.

Maurkice Pouncey, Tony Hills and Willie Colon made up the rest of the line, temporarily. Pouncey was injured at the end of the third series and was replaced by Doug Legursky. The line then appeared to remain intact through the end of the second quarter.

They gave up two sacks, one in the first quarter, one in the second. The second quarter sack featured a scenario that has become all too familiar to Pittsburgh fans. Ben manages to stay upright, despite having Vance Walker, a 300-plus pound DT, hanging on him. Walker also rips Ben's helmet off in the process. But a flag flies, and our hearts leap with gladness. The refs are actually going to call an Unnecessary Roughness penalty for messing with our QB's head!  It's about time!

But, as usual, the penalty is actually on a Steelers player (this time, Willie Colon for holding). Walker gets credit for the sack, despite never actually getting Ben on the ground. Admittedly, Ben was definitely "in the grasp." He's undoubtedly got the bruises to prove it.

Some day an opposing defensive player is actually going to remove a critical bit of Ben's head. I'm guessing the ref will posthumously slap Ben with a Delay of Game penalty. I'm not one of those people that think that the refs have it out for Pittsburgh, but they don't seem as interested in protecting Ben as they are some of the other "elite" QBs.

At this point, the offensive line is the biggest weakness of the 2011 Steelers offense. But that isn't nearly as bad as it sounds.

Why? Because they are being compared to a QB that is in the discussion for best in the league, depending on the metric you use. The receiving corps is shaping up to be one of the best in the league. Rashard Mendenhall had an excellent season last year and looks better than ever this season. Heath Miller is one of the best all-around TEs on any roster.

Therefore, the o-line is the worst unit almost by default.

Their major problem last season was not having a chance to gel as a unit because of multiple injuries. By the postseason, when the line had finally worked together for a number of weeks, they looked a great deal better.

So far the line has had numerous  configurations, but Pouncey's injury appears to be minor. Scott should be returning for the Ravens game, if not before, unless Gilbert manages to wrench the starting job away from him. Hills is settling nicely into RG, with a minimum of mistakes at the position.

Kemoeatu is a solid player. Colon is an excellent RT and last year's Achilles injury doesn't seem to be affecting him at all.

It would seem that this line has a chance to be more than good enough this year. After all, when you have a starting lineup of WRs and RBs like we've been seeing in the preseason, you can keep opposing defenses guessing. That makes life is a great deal easier on the line.

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