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Steelers starters look to clean up mistakes in third exhibition

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 8:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quaterback Ben Roethlisberger plays against the Redskins, Monday, August 19, 2013, at FedEx Field.

Mike Tomlin is talking about the necessity of winning. Ryan Clark is gearing up to play far longer than usual. Ben Roethlisberger is studying a game plan.

Obviously, this isn't the usual Steelers preseason game.

As Clark said, this is one time when the clichéd “all-important third preseason game” is truly that for a team that is 0-2 and hasn't looked good. The Steelers starters expect to play into the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night at Heinz Field, and there will be much to work on during the most extended playing time they will get in August.

Tomlin hasn't been happy with his starting offense's inability to get into the end zone, to convert on third down — 1 of 13 against the Redskins — to pass protect or to finish drives.

The running game remains unstable amid an ever-changing succession of faces in the backfield — Felix Jones is next up — and tight end remains a question mark with Heath Miller still out indefinitely.

“Obviously, you step in the stadiums with the intent of winning, and we haven't done that yet,” Tomlin said. “There's a little edge to our preparation.”

To Clark, there should be.

“I don't think you can read much into the wins and losses of preseason games,” said Clark, who was unhappy with the 95 yards in penalties Monday against the Redskins.

“But I think the thing you can focus on is too many penalties. Too much Steelers beating ourselves. ... I think for us and the way we played, not capitalizing on the other team's mistakes, continuing to make mistakes ourselves, it's important that we clean it up.”

That's why the limited two-day preparation for this game was more like that for a regular-season game, including film study and a game plan, something that was lacking for the Giants and Redskins games. In some situations, Roethlisberger said, the Steelers simply didn't have the proper play call for the type of defense they were seeing.

“It's a good week for us, especially offensively,” he said. “They have a real good defense and are going to present some looks that we haven't seen in a while.”

The key, he said, is to balance preparing for the regular season without showing off any new looks or altered schemes that will be employed in the games that count.

The greatest improvement probably needs to be shown by an offensive line that was oft-penalized against the Redskins while failing repeatedly to protect Roethlisberger, who scrambled far more than is wanted for a preseason game.

Since the starters might play only a series or two against Carolina on Thursday night, there is a sense of urgency to get the problems fixed now.

“We just have to keep improving, and that's what the preseason is for. We have the right mindset around here, and we have to continue to build on that,” backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said.

“We're far from where we want to be. ... But the preseason is to work out these kinks, to learn different things. This is the time to learn those things, and as we do that, we'll continue to do better.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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