Steelers are perplexed by hit-or-miss offense
Answers, like offense in the second half Sunday at Heinz Field, proved to be elusive in the Steelers' locker room.
Then again, it is hard to explain how an offense that had seemingly hit its stride suddenly went into the fetal position.
"It's frustrating, because my expectations for this offense are so high," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the Steelers held off the Jacksonville Jaguars, 17-13.
That frustration is understandable and shared by more than Roethlisberger.
The Steelers' offense is brimming with talented skill players, and it entered 2011 with lofty expectations. Yet six games into the season the unit remains something of a puzzle.
The Steelers rank 22nd in the NFL in scoring (19.8 points per game), even though they compare favorably in several other statistical categories.
They are fifth in the NFL in third-down conversions (48.7 percent) and 10th in total offense (373.0 yards per game). Since the season-opening debacle in Baltimore, the Steelers have averaged just one giveaway a game.
Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 200 yards every game, and the Steelers haven't abandoned the run despite a slow start by starting running back Rashard Mendenhall.
The Steelers, in fact, ran the ball 58 percent of the time Sunday, when Mendenhall rushed for 146 yards.
Yet they barely hung on to beat the struggling Jaguars after a second half in which Roethlisberger's legs produced as many first downs (one) as his right arm.
"We have the players," wide receiver Mike Wallace said after the Steelers managed 55 yards in the final two quarters against Jacksonville. "We just have to put it all together."
That is something the Steelers will have to pay more than lip service to if they want make a run at another Super Bowl title.
The defense has been good — it is ranked No. 1 in yards allowed (270.5 per game) — but it has not shown that it can carry the Steelers.
That may be too much to ask of any defense, with the way some of the top teams can spread the field and let their quarterback play pitch-and-catch.
The Steelers face one of those teams in two weeks when New England visits Heinz Field.
They will need their defense to play well. They will need their offense to be even better if they want keep up with quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots.
That means a unit that is as talented as any since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007 has to start playing in more than just spurts.
Or, in the case of Sunday's game, more than just halves.
"We are not doing it on a consistent level yet," wide receiver Hines Ward said, "But we're getting there."
3 players to watch
Kevin Kolb, QB: Arizona traded for the coveted signal-caller in July, and he is still feeling his way in coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense. Kolb has thrown for 256.2 yards per game, but he has tossed just five touchdown passes and six interceptions. Kolb is 28th in the NFL in passer rating (77.2), behind rookies Andy Dalton and Cam Newton.
Ike Taylor, CB: Taylor has been one of the top cover men in the NFL this season, and he may have a little bit of a score to settle with Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald. The perennial All-Pro got the better of Taylor in the second half of Super Bowl XLIII, nearly leading the Cardinals to momentous upset of the Steelers.
Beanie Wells, RB: The former Ohio State star is finally showing why the Cards made him a No. 1 pick in 2009. Wells is averaging just over 95 rushing yards in four games and has run for six touchdowns.
3 questions with receiver Arnaz Battle
You played quarterback at Notre Dame. Where would you be in the pecking order of emergency quarterbacks on this team?
"Oh, I don't know. We have quite a few guys that have played quarterback before. After practice I've taken some snaps, handed the ball off. Several guys have, (and) a number of guys have rotated in to stay prepared."
Will Notre Dame ever be the powerhouse that it once was?
"I think they can make it back, but I think it's going to take several years of consistency as far as the coaching staff. They've had a lot of changes there in the past decade. You go from Lou Holtz to Bob Davie, Davie to (Tyrone) Willingham, Willingham to (Charlie) Weis, from Weis to the new coach (Brian Kelly). That's a lot of changes, and to really compete you have to have some type of consistency as far as your program."
What is your favorite movie?
"Life." Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy. I like comedy, and that is one of the movies that has numerous comedians in it. It's a hilarious movie."
2 — Turnovers forced by the Steelers
7 — Former Steelers coaches or players on Arizona's coaching staff, including head man Ken Whisenhunt
8 — Rushing touchdowns allowed by the Cardinals, tied with the New York Jets for most in the NFL after the fifth week of the season
13 — Sacks Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is on pace to record this season
17 — Turnovers forced by the Steelers through the first six games of 2010
20 — Career receptions by Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace that have covered at least 40 yards
"I think the jury is still out on us. I don't run away from that. As a matter of fact, I encourage it. It's a good, working mentality for us to have. We've done some nice things, but due to some circumstances we haven't been tested like we will be. The big challenges lie ahead." — Coach Mike Tomlin, on the Steelers' pass defense, which is No. 1 in the NFL
"I've been waiting for this the whole season because I know what he's capable of every week." — Wallace, on running back Rashard Mendenhall breaking out for 146 rushing yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars
"He's a load at the line of scrimmage, and he's nifty enough to play out of the backfield. All of our counter plays, he's usually leading the way. He's doing a really good job, solid, just like we knew he would be. He's a more than adequate receiver, he just doesn't get his chances. But he's done a really good job blocking." — Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, on third-year tight end David Johnson
"When one guy goes down, another guy steps in. He does a great job of coaching not just the starters and the Pro Bowlers, but the guys all the way down the line. I've always said that." — Nose tackle Chris Hoke, on how Tomlin builds quality depth
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