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Roethlisberger, Steelers' Offense Still Listed as Questionable

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst ISeptember 21, 2009

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 20: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass against the Chicago Bears on September 20, 2009 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Steelers 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

After Week One, it is easy to dismiss something out of the ordinary, good or bad, as nothing more than a blip on the radar.

After Week Two, trends start to emerge. That's not to say that these trends couldn't be changed after four or even six weeks. But, for now, we have two regular season weeks worth of film to look at.

So how exactly are Ben Roethlisberger and his offense doing?

Roethlisberger

In my position preview on the Steelers' quarterbacks, I listed several potential weaknesses for Ben's play. One of my chief concerns was Roethlisberger's tendency last season toward forcing the ball into tight spots, leading to interceptions.

After two games, Roethlisberger has three interceptions. We can throw out one because it was a hail mary at the end of the first half of the Steelers' Week One matchup with Tennessee.

Of the remaining two interceptions, one is a perfect example of throwing into coverage while the other is part of another alarming trend that must be corrected soon.

In Week One, Roethlisberger tried to force a throw to rookie wideout Mike Wallace that sailed. Wallace was well covered, with no less than three defensive backs in range to close on the ball. One of them took the ball away.

Yesterday against Chicago, Roethlisberger once again targeted Wallace. This time, however, Ben underthrew his target and the pass was intercepted.

Now, neither time was Ben throwing badly into coverage. The first pass would likely have fallen incomplete had it not been overthrown. The second one would have been a touchdown had Ben not been short.

But that doesn't mean that Roethlisberger hasn't thrown into coverage. He's just been incredibly lucky.

I will say that, so far, his decision making has been more sound. What alarms me most about his performance through two weeks is that he has often looked like he was having trouble on timing. He's been short, wide, long, or low on several pass attempts. This has led to a couple of missed opportunities that would have put the Steelers solidly ahead in both contests.

The other negative to Ben's game that I highlighted in the preview was his desire to hold onto the ball and try to make plays using his escapability.

This hasn't changed. What has changed, at least between Weeks One and Two, is that his offensive line and running backs stepped up to the plate and took the heat off of him.

Offense

The Steelers' offense played well enough as a unit to win one of their two games. The problem is that they still lost the game they played well enough to win.

When the Steelers give him protection and a rushing attack, Ben is almost unbeatable.  Sunday afternoon, we got a glimpse of just how good this offense will be once everyone starts clicking.

Against what is arguably one of the NFL's top defenses, Pittsburgh's offensive line pushed back the Bears onslaught and kept Roethlisberger upright most of the day. They also managed to open holes for a revived stable of backs, helping the Steelers improve markedly on Week One's awful rushing total (36 net yards rushing).

It's still early, and after two very different performances, it is hard to conclude much about how the offensive line is going to perform over a 16-game schedule. What they did prove, however, is that they certainly have the potential to be an effective unit.

There will be no more excuses after the way they handled Chicago's front seven.

Putting It All Together

So what do the Steelers need to work on in advance of their meeting with division rival Cincinnati?

1. Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger needs to keep making good decisions with the football. He hasn't thrown a pass yet that left me wondering if his head was in the game.

He does need to sort out the timing issues, particularly with speedy Mike Wallace. I believe that this issue, at least as far as Wallace goes, is due to a lack of chemistry (Wallace is a rookie) more than either player making bad choices.

Ben does overthrow other receivers, however. That needs to stop. He should be more than comfortable with Santonio Holmes, yet Holmes has several times had to either come back for a pass or try to run under a deep ball. Hopefully, that is something that can be corrected by another week of reps for the two stars.

Other than that, Ben's game has been pretty sound so far. He still needs to recognize when he can't do anything with the ball and learn to throw it into the stands. That, however, seems like it will always be a part of Ben's game.

And that's also where the offensive line and running backs come in.

2. Offensive Line/Running Backs

If Roethlisberger is going to be sacked at least once per game (as he has in both contests) due to his desire to hang onto the ball, then the offensive line needs to minimize its mistakes.

In Week One, the line looked porous, allowing Tennessee to sack Roethlisberger four times and causing several plays, particularly running plays, to be broken up in the backfield.

That has to end.

For its part, the offensive line stepped up in Week Two. There will be no more excuses now that it has shown it can be effective against a good defense.

The running backs also stepped up in Week Two, breaking big gains several times and helping the Steelers execute screen and play action passes with a higher degree of success.

As with the line, there are no excuses now.

How 'Bout The Bengals?

You don't have to look far to find two players on the Bengals defense to worry about. 

Antwan Odom and Rey Maualuga are major concerns for Pittsburgh's line.

Odom sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and Maualuga forced to fumbles and added a sack of his own yesterday against Green Bay. Odom now has seven sacks in two games. 

It would appear, at least for now, that the Bengals are improved from last year's dismal incarnation. Defensively, they seem much more sound.

For the Steelers, the line will have to block Odom and Maualuga as well as the Bengals' other pass rush threats.

Cincinnati hasn't forced many interceptions, but they do have the potential to with cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph in the secondary.

The bigger concern for Pittsburgh is that Cincinnati was particularly stout against the Packers' rushing attack Sunday. The Packers have had similar issues with the running game, so it will bear watching as to how well Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall do on the ground.

Beating the Bengals will likely be more of a defensive issue, as the Steelers' offense matches up well, particularly in the passing game, with what Cincinnati brings defensively.

Grading

Roethlisberger: B

Ben gets a solid B for his two performances. There haven't been any mind-numbing mistakes, but there also haven't been a lot of big plays early in games.

Roethlisberger gets some points for his game-winning drive against Tennessee, but loses a couple for overthrowing open receivers.

He has been solid and somewhat spectacular. He just has to iron out a wrinkle or two before he gets the A.

Offensive Line/Running Backs: C

I'm not giving these guys a C because they haven't played well. They played great against the Bears and that is a tough task. 

But they did play awful football in Week One and that can't be discounted. They get a C because, in short, we haven't seen enough to give them anything other than a middle grade.

They can, however, bump it up with a good showing against Cincinnati.

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