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Steelers plan to rejuvenate passing game

| Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, 11:10 p.m.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown plays against Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium Stadium Oct. 21, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Mike Wallace doesn't think they're scared anymore.

The Steelers' big-play wide receiver sensed hesitation in defensive backs last season, the worry that in a second or two he would accelerate into the direct path of a precisely thrown Ben Roethlisberger deep pass.

Not now. It's not as if the long ball has vanished from the offense; Wallace caught an 82-yard touchdown pass only two weeks ago. But Roethlisberger is going downfield only once or twice a game — not the five or six times he did when Bruce Arians ran the offense.

Maybe that's why Wallace sees cornerbacks creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, emboldened by the knowledge that the Steelers aren't looking long.

Wallace believes it's time to bring back the fear factor.

“Last year, we went deep so much that guys would back up all the time,” he said Thursday. “This year, we've been going (short) so much, guys I think are kind of forgetting who we are when it comes to deep balls. They're forgetting we're the best in the world. We need to remind them.”

This might be the week to go deep.

“There are definitely going to be opportunities — a lot of them,” receiver Antonio Brown said. “We've got to take advantage of them, capitalize on them.”

The Washington Redskins (3-4) rank last in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 328.4 yards per game and 7.71 yards per attempt. No doubt offensive coordinator Todd Haley is paying attention.

“I think he's going to give us a couple of shots,” Wallace said.

The Redskins' secondary, which starts cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson and safeties Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams, has allowed 16 touchdown passes. The most recent was an everyone-knew-it-was-coming Eli Manning to Victor Cruz 77-yard winner with 73 seconds left Sunday against the New York Giants.

“They're OK. They're decent,” Wallace said of the Redskins' secondary. “DeAngelo is a perennial Pro Bowler guy. … I don't feel like they have tremendous athletes over there, but they're always in the right spots.”

Not much is going right for those defenders so far.

“We gave up 222 yards a game in the passing game last year. I think we were like 10th or 11th. We're giving up 328 right now, which is crazy,” Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said.

Now that secondary must face Roethlisberger, who is enjoying one of his best seasons despite being without much of a running game until Jonathan Dwyer ran for 122 yards Sunday at Cincinnati. Roethlisberger threw for 278 yards but would have had more if his receivers hadn't dropped a half-dozen passes, including three by Wallace.

“Like I've said all along, I'm not worried about the big plays,” Haley said. “I think, when they're there, we'll get them, and hopefully we're at a high percentage of getting them.”

Sunday, perhaps? Brown (36 catches), tight end Heath Miller (31) and Wallace (29) all have more catches than any Redskins player; tight end Fred Davis, who's out for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon, leads the way with 24.

“If we can get that production out of our running game, our pass game is going to come — I promise you,” Wallace said. “I think we can be one of the best offenses. But it's not time to say that anymore — we have to go out and prove it. The talking is done.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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