New pieces no problem for Steelers’ offense
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers are kind of like a Meatloaf song.
You know, two out of three ain’t bad.
Pittsburgh lost two of its top three wide receivers to free agency in the offseason.
If the early results have shown anything, losing two of the top three hasn’t slowed this offense.
The first team, which drove 70 yards for a field goal in the preseason-opening 20-16 loss to the New York Giants, scored a pair of touchdowns on its first two possessions in Saturday night’s 19-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the field, the Steelers have gained 210 yards and scored 17 points in four preseason possessions, the equivalent of about one half of football.
The first unit will get an extended look in Thursday night’s preseason game at Philadelphia. The Steelers haven’t felt the offseason free agent losses of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, who combined for 113 catches, 1,342 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.
In fact, with Markus Wheaton entering his second season and the additions at wide receiver of veteran Lance Moore and rookies Dri Archer and Martavis Bryant and veteran LeGarrette Blount at running back, the Steelers might be more dangerous on offense than they were a season ago.
It gives the Steelers options.
In the opener at New York, the Steelers lined up with two tight ends and ran the ball on five of seven plays. Against Buffalo, the first unit worked exclusively out of the no-huddle.
“That was the game plan for this game,” said Wheaton, who had two receptions for 15 yards, including a touchdown. “I couldn’t tell you what we’re going to do moving forward. There’s no telling what we’ll do next week.”
Just as important, Roethlisberger, who was 8 of 11 for 128 yards and two touchdowns, wasn’t touched by a Bills defensive player in the game, a tall task considering Buffalo finished second in the NFL last season with 57 sacks.
The Steelers have worked on the no-huddle extensively during the offseason and training camp, but this was the first time they had the opportunity to use it against another team.
“They did a great job, especially since they didn’t do it a lot,” said Roethlisberger of his offensive line and the no-huddle. “I think they did a heck of a job. They kept me clean. I don’t have any stains on my pants, so that’s good.”
It was similar to what the Steelers did last season, when they averaged 26.7 points over their final 12 games after averaging just 17.3 in their first four, all of which were losses.
With so many new faces in key places, there was a concern it would take the Steelers several games to get its offense, and in particular the no-huddle, which relies on hand-signals and verbal commands at the line of scrimmage, up to speed.
So far, so good.
On Pittsburgh’s second offensive play against the Bills, Roethlisberger sent running back Le’Veon Bell to the slot next to Antonio Brown and confused Buffalo’s defense. Brown caught a short slant pass and raced 76 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s how this thing should work,” said Roethlisberger, who is now 9 of 13 for 174 yards and a passer rating of 151.4 in the preseason. “I thought we did a good job. The communication was what I wanted to work on, and we didn’t have any mental errors.
“It was a good start to the no-huddle.”
Odds and end zones
Rookie linebacker Howard Jones, who was undrafted out of Shepherd University, recovered his third fumble of the preseason to set up the Steelers’ game-winning field goal as time expired. … Rookie defensive end Josh Mauro had two sacks, while linebackers Vic So’oto and Terence Garvin each had one for the Steelers. So’oto’s sack forced the fumble that Jones recovered. … Third-year safety Robert Golden had an interception and a fumble recovery. … The preseason victory was the first since 2012 for the Steelers, who went 0-4 last preseason.