Steelers' offense must show patience
When asked about the Steelers' offensive struggles against Cincinnati, wide receiver Hines Ward shrugged his response.
"They've been doing it the last three weeks,'' Ward said of Steelers' opponents. "Minnesota started it. Minnesota's a Cover-2 team. They really don't give up a lot of big plays.''
The Steelers will likely face more of the same defensive attention in Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Kansas City.
Big plays in the passing game normally occur less frequently against the Cover-2, a zone defense designed to force offenses to play more conservatively. In a Cover-2, the two safeties split the field and try to take away the deep pass.
In last week's 18-12 loss against the Bengals, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger recorded his lowest passer rating of the season (51.5). He completed 20-of-40 passes for a season-low 174 yards with one interception and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this year.
Roethlisberger, who was sacked four times, didn't have a lot of time to scan the field. As a result, the Steelers' longest pass play was 21 yards, although rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace drew a 46-yard interference penalty in the second quarter.
"There were a couple of times I maybe had a (running) back (open), but the ball just wasn't coming off my hand well,'' Roethlisberger said.
What Roethlisberger described as a "bad day'' occured against a Bengals' defense intent on limiting big plays.
"They're taking away (some) of the big plays that we were getting at the beginning of the season,'' wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "You've got to start finding all the wrinkles in every team's game and start putting together more and more things.''
Referring to Steelers opponents, Ward said: 'They're playing different. I've seen more bracket coverage in the slot. Denver maybe had three guys around me. They've really (focused on Holmes) and myself.''
Roethlisberger was sharp against Denver's Cover-2 the previous week in a 28-10 win, completing 21 of 29 for 233 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 116.0 rating.
And in the 2008 playoffs, Roethlisberger played two of his best games against Cover-2 defenses. Taking what the defense gave him - hitting the underneath routes to his receivers and check-downs to his backs - Roethlisberger was 17 of 26 for 181 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 35-24 win against San Diego in a divisional playoff game.
The following week, in a 23-14 victory against Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game, Roethlisberger was the picture of patience: 16 of 33 for 255 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Holmes said the Steelers must take their time and repeat the game plan of last year's playoff success against the Cover-2.
"When you rush, things don't happen the way you want,'' Holmes said. "Ten yards, eight yards, five yards - you control the game, you slow the tempo, you go at your own pace. You win games.''