Steelers won't be ultra-conservative
Art Rooney II said a few months back that the Steelers need to get back to running the ball more.
So, with Dennis Dixon getting only his second start Sunday when the Steelers open the season against visiting Atlanta, what better time is there to appease the boss and run the ball more?
Well, you might not want to erase the team record of 60 attempts out of the media guide quite yet.
"To go out and say we have to run the ball to win the game, put a number of runs on it, I don't believe that," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "You have to score points."
If that means abandoning the run and putting the game into Dixon's hands, Arians said he is comfortable doing such a thing.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to win the game," Arians said.
Last year, the Steelers threw the ball much more than they handed off. They ran only 42.2 percent of the time in 2009, although their 112.1 yards a game were nearly seven more than their Super Bowl season of 2008.
Despite throwing the ball a record number of times, during Dixon's one start against the Ravens last year, Arians called more run plays than he did in any game all season with 38.
"He is just going to call what he has to call as the game goes on," receiver Hines Ward said. "We are going to try to run the ball. But at the same time, we aren't going to run it 40 times and pass it twice."
Only five times did Arians call more running plays than passing plays last year, and the Steelers went 3-2 in those games.
"People can speculate on how the game should be played," Ward said. "Nobody is going to know until the game unfolds. If they load up and take the run away, then we aren't going to be dumb and keep running the ball if there is nothing there."
It is very possible that Atlanta will load up the line of scrimmage against the Steelers and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
That would put the pressure on Dixon, who showed throughout the majority of the preseason that his accuracy has greatly improved. Despite a hiccup against Denver in the third preseason game when he completed 9-of-16 passes, Dixon has been accurate, completing 14 of 16 passes in the other three games combined.
"Dennis is capable of doing everything," tight end Heath Miller said. "This is his third year in this offense, and he proved throughout the preseason that he is more than capable of running the show."
Arians said he will be able to open the playbook a lot more this time around with Dixon because he has an experienced backup quarterback at his disposal. Last year, Tyler Palko was signed earlier in the week to fill that role.
"I've got all the confidence in the world in (Dixon)," Arians said. "It's night and day from Baltimore last year to this game. He's more than ready to score enough points to win the game."