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Steelers have answer for pass rush

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By Mike Prisuta
Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

The Steelers have scored easier touchdowns, but not many.

Third-and-10 from the Philadelphia 19.

Ben Roethlisberger sees the Eagles showing blitz.

Santonio Holmes sees the same thing.

The quarterback and the receiver exchange a quick glance before the ball is snapped.

Roethlisberger accepts it from shotgun formation and releases it again before he can take two complete steps backward.

Holmes makes the catch, puts a move on cornerback Brian Dawkins and is gone.


"That was one of those plays that's almost drawn up in the dirt," Holmes said.

It was the only time Roethlisberger and Holmes hooked up in a preseason opener Friday night in which the first-team offense played just one series.

But for an offense determined to cut down on the 47 regular-season sacks Roethlisberger absorbed a season ago, once was enough.

There isn't a blitz conceivable that can get to the quarterback quickly enough in such situations.

The pass won't always be as accurate, the catch won't always be made and the receiver won't always leave the coverage searching for its athletic supporter, but the quarterback will not get planted.

That's the beauty of the "hot read."

And that's why the first touchdown of the preseason may remain etched in everyone's memory long after the scores of these for-the-most-part meaningless exhibitions have been forgotten.

"We were on the same page," Holmes said. "We didn't have to yell at each other to get each other's attention.

"We just took our best shot."

If that continues, opposing pass rushes ought to slow down considerably.

If they don't, Holmes on the outside one-one-one, or Hines Ward in a similar situation on the other side of the field ought to extract a big-play price from defenses determined to assault the pocket without the benefit of a safety or two deep.

Holmes already is contemplating the possibilities now that the Steelers are in the process of fine-tuning this "hot read" thing.

"It's gonna be a lot of fun this year if we can get an opportunity to just go out there and click every day, every game, every practice," he said. "It takes a lot of time. And I think spending all that time we did together throughout the offseason, as opposed to two years ago when I wasn't here the first year; this year we spent a lot of time together."

The Steelers scored on maybe two such plays a year ago. This season, Holmes is a second-year starter, which helps.

And Roethlisberger is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, one in which he was encouraged to ramp up his studying of defenses in exchange for more of a say in what plays are called and in what situation.

Holmes likened what took place against the Eagles to the football equivalent of an "alley-oop."

The resulting slam-dunk inspired hope that the Steelers are much-better prepared than they were a year ago to confront the blitzes they know will be coming.

Why now?

"Maturation," Roethlisberger said.

He was talking about himself, his receivers and the offense as a whole.

Roethlisberger was eating an ice cream cone as he spoke, but he left the distinct impression that wasn't the only reason he was licking his chops.

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