STEELERS – THURSDAY
PITTSBURGH — It wasn’t too long ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers were known primarily as a strong defensive team with a solid running game, but that perspective certainly has changed in recent years.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wideout Antonio Brown and a bevy of skill players leading the way, the Steelers have morphed into an offensive juggernaut that leads the NFL in total offense after just two games.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers are second in passing yardage to the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, but Brown is unparalleled with 18 catches for a league-best 328 yards (18.2 average) and two touchdowns.
“Ben really has developed over the years, and that’s a testament to all the hard work he’s put in and his smarts,” Steelers offensive guard Ramon Foster said Thursday. “And every team has to look at him first as a playmaker. You have to account for him.
“And his overall maturity with his attention to detail has been great. He’s always doing something with the skill guys and just knowing everything about the plays, that’s something he’s definitely improved on.”
Tight end Heath Miller, in his 11th NFL season (one less than Roethlisberger), has developed along with his quarterback. Miller is second on the Steelers with 10 catches for 99 yards and one touchdown.
“Ben’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for quite a few years now, but I think it’s undeniably his team and his offense now,” Miller said. “I think the offense is tailored around his abilities. I think when we were younger, we were more of a running team.
“Now, he’s our best player, and the front office and coaching staff have tried to put players around him so that he can be who he is right now. And that’s what you’re seeing.”
The Steelers offense should be able to ratchet up a notch this week with the return of running back Le’Veon Bell, fresh from his NFL-mandated, two-game suspension. That means this group could be even more dynamic.
“The sky’s the limit,” Bell said. “I feel like we have playmakers everywhere. I don’t think a defense can just key in on one area. I don’t think they can just try to take away the run or the pass, because we’re so good at both. We just have to keep being consistent and get better. Teams will try different things against us, but we have to be ready to answer. We have to keep moving forward.”
Roethlisberger and the Steelers have played Jeff Fisher-coached teams many times before during his previous 20 NFL seasons, so the fourth-year Rams head coach is well-acquainted with the quarterback and his talents.
“I think Ben has gotten better and better each year,” Fisher said. “His understanding, his anticipation, his ability to change things on the line of scrimmage, putting them in the best-case scenario on the line of scrimmage. He’s just matured. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the game.”
“(And) that’s kind of the point we expressed to our defense. You’re going to have to bring your A-game, and even with that he’s still going to make his plays. He has an outstanding group of receivers. I’m just very impressed with his pocket presence and his ability to extend plays, like he’s done for years.”
A new challenge for NFL offenses this season is the two-point conversion. The Steelers have been practicing it extensively since spring OTAs and mini-camp and picked up the pace during training camp. So, Roethlisberger and the offense are confident they can be successful. The Steelers are 3-for-3 in two games.
“We do it enough in practice (and) feel that we’re converting (more than) 50 percent in practice, and that’s good enough,” Roethlisberger said. “So, we’re going to keep doing it. We practiced it every single day. We only just got (Coach Mike Tomlin) out of it on Wednesdays and do a different drill then, but it’s still on Thursday and Friday. So, it’s something we’ve practiced a lot and feel comfortable with.”
Notes: Steelers DT Dan McCullers (knee), ILB Ryan Shazier (shoulder) and WR Markus Wheaton (chest) did not practice Thursday, while CB Cortez Allen (knee) and DE Cam Heyward (elbow) were limited. CB Will Gay ( not injury related) returned to practice on a full-time basis after resting on Wednesday…..Tyler Murphy has been signed to the practice squad…..