So far this season, Ben Roethlisberger has been on a record pace. In the first 3 games he threw for 904 yds, 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. The upgraded offense installed by Todd Haley clearly works in favor of the strengths of Big Ben and over the course of the season is capable of producing offensive numbers we haven’t seen in Pittsburgh in, well, forever. Spreading the ball around to at least 8 different targets per game and getting rid of the ball quickly while still utilizing Ben’s knack for keeping plays alive has served them well.
On Sunday at Heinz Field against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers offense showed a different side, one we haven’t seen much of at all this year. The obvious response to that is the running game, but also it showed us that Ben still has the ability to win the close game when things aren’t going as well in the passing game as he’s been used too this season. He’s no stranger to extending plays as we know and that will continue to be useful all year, but at least now there’s hope that the running game may be picking up some of the slack to make the offense more balanced and even more dynamic. It won’t happen overnight, but even baby steps are better than nothing.
The return of Rashard Mendenhall from ACL surgery was definitely a spark in the running game, a spark very much needed for a virtually nonexistent running attack averaging less than 3 yds per rush going into week 5. The Steelers as a team rushed for 136 yds and 1 touchdown, helping the offense control the clock for over 33 minutes. Credit the offensive line for the rejuvenated rushing game too; they were able to open up holes for both Mendenhall and Isaac Redman better than they’ve done all year. It’s clear that Mendenhall’s style of running not only fits this offense but provides a boost to Redman and his abilities. On a side note, did anyone notice Mendenhall being more aggressive in his running? There was less dancing and more hitting the hole and getting north and south quickly. When he had to use his agility he did, when he needed a burst of speed, it was there.
Ben finished the day with 21/37 for 207 yds and no touchdowns. Those are the type of stats that we’ve been used to seeing out of Ben a couple years ago. A workmanlike performance where he doesn’t light up the stat sheet but still finds a way to win. The more impressive stats from Roethlisberger though were the fact that he didn’t throw an interception and he wasn’t sacked.
The credit for keeping Ben upright goes to the offensive line as much as it goes to the ground attack. The Eagles weren’t able to pin their ears back and just rush the quarterback like other teams were able to do this year. The offensive line has been, for the most part, able to stay together the last 2 weeks, and we were able to see some progress with this unit both in pass protection and in run blocking. Marcus Gilbert did leave briefly but was able to return. Keeping this unit healthy and together is absolutely paramount. The growing pains Willie Colon at LG are just something we’ll have to live with but the end justifies the means and he’s still the best option at G that this team has.
All in all, this offense saw out of Pittsburgh in week 5 wasn’t one we were used to seeing this year, but there will be times when your quarterback doesn’t have 350 yds and 3 touchdowns so you have to win ugly. The win over the Eagles was definitely ugly but it’s a win and 2-2 never looked so good.