Group meetings pay for Steelers offense
The Steelers are doing things like never before on offense, in part because they're preparing as they never had prior to Mike Tomlin's arrival as head coach.
Two games into his tenure, Tomlin has been true to his stated intention not to micromanage.
For new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, that's translated into the freedom to call plays that seek a specific target no matter the coverage.
To pull that off, the Steelers are conducting more meetings than ever before, not just by position and as an offense, but also as a skill-position ensemble.
"Before, the quarterbacks met with the quarterbacks, the wide receivers met with the wide receivers," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We came together sometimes, the quarterbacks and the wide-outs, but we never watched film with the tight ends and running backs included."
Now, such gatherings are a regular part of the Steelers' Wednesday and Thursday routines.
"I want to do all the talking in that meeting so that everybody hears it in one voice," Arians said. "When we leave that room, we're on the same page."
As a result, the skill-position players are gaining an appreciation for how important their roles are on each play, even on occasions when their number isn't called.
"When Bruce calls a play, everyone is starting to understand what the play is supposed to mean," Ward said.
Ward knew, for example, that his role was critical on a deep ball the Steelers called on first-and-10 from the Browns' 40-yard line during their season-opening win on Sept. 9 in Cleveland. The play was designed to go to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, but its success depended on Ward running a hard, fast route at the proper depth to draw the front-side safety away from Holmes.
Ward did, and the play resulted in a touchdown.
The Steelers took a similar gamble in Sunday's home win over Buffalo after taking over on downs at their 37.
This time, free safety Jim Leonard didn't bite on the underneath route and was in position to provide deep help on Holmes and ultimately come up with an interception.
On both occasions, the Steelers broke the huddle determined to go to Holmes rather than to read the defense and react accordingly.
Ward, in his 10th season with the Steelers, can't remember a time when they were permitted to commit themselves in such a manner.
"No," he said. "I was wondering why (Roethlisberger) even threw that pass to Santonio, but that was Bruce. He wanted to take a shot, and he thought the safety was going to bite up on me and he said 'I want you to just throw it.' "
Arians took responsibility for the interception against Buffalo but said it won't alter his approach.
"We're taking our shots (deep)," Arians said. "If we don't take four shots, then we didn't do our job in my opinion, four to five every game."
The additional meetings weren't popular initially, but they're being embraced heading into Sunday's game against San Francisco.
"At first guys were griping about it," Ward said. "But right now we're 2-0. There's nothing to complain about."
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