being one of three teams that ranked in the top�10 in total offense
(seventh) and total defense (ninth), the Steelers had to win their last game
just to finish 8-8. The reason? Pittsburgh was tied for 27th in turnover
margin, with eight more giveaways than takeaways. So new offensive coordinator
Bruce Arians is working to reduce Ben Roethlisberger's interceptions by getting
him to take fewer chances. The fourth-year QB was an enthusiastic pupil in
first-year coach Mike Tomlin, who admires Tony Dungy's championship 4-3 scheme
in Indianapolis, met with holdover defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who
prefers the zone-blitzing 3-4, more than 20 times in the six months after
Tomlin got hired. The idea was to draw from both approaches in formulating the
Steelers' strategy, with LeBeau sticking to his classic 3-4 base defense--for
> There are
varying theories about Big Ben's jump from 20�interceptions, total, in
2004 and '05 to 23 last year: He wasn't right physically, after wrecking his
motorcycle in an accident six weeks before training camp and then undergoing
surgery to remove his appendix shortly before the season opener; opponents had
gone to school on him and learned to play his intermediate pass routes more
aggressively; he was too fixated on living the good life away from the field.
Roethlisberger calls all of that nonsense. In his opinion, he was just too
impatient too often, trying to make plays when they weren't there; a study of
'06 game tape bears him out. "Here's my little secret about last year,''
Roethlisberger said in training camp. "It was bad play by me. My fault.
It's not the accident. I was fine. I didn't make an excuse last year, and I'm
not making one now."
A moment later
Roethlisberger cut off a question about the shaky rookie year of wide receiver
Santonio Holmes, the deep threat who was supposed to elevate the passing game.
"He would have had a�lot better year if I had been any good,"
Steeler, who did not want to be named, attributed Roethlisberger's drop-off to
"too many hands in his cookie jar," with then coach Bill Cowher,
offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and line coach Russ Grimm all involved in
scheming and game-planning. They are all gone, and Arians, in addition to
preaching patience, is giving his passer more responsibility while adding a few
wrinkles to the playbook. Big Ben will be calling more audibles this year,
experimenting with the no-huddle and commanding a more versatile offense,
particularly on first down. "We'll still be primarily a run team,'' says
wideout Hines Ward, "but you'll see us in formations on first down that you
haven't seen, like four wides. We'll try to be more unpredictable."
That's a lot of
trust to put in a quarterback coming off his worst season. "There's no
doubt in my mind that the real Ben is the one who took us to the Super Bowl two
years ago," says Arians, who was the wide receivers coach for the
championship team. "I've told him, 'Know it before you throw it. Don't take
the unnecessary risks you took last year.' "
There is one
other issue on offense: a suddenly shaky line. The left side is fine; guard
Alan Faneca and tackle Marvel Smith enter their fourth year together, an
excellent combo protecting Roethlisberger's blind side and paving the way for
solid running back Willie Parker. But the other three starting jobs along the
line were still up for grabs entering the final preseason game. Sean Mahan,
Kendall Simmons and Willie Colon had the edge at center, right guard and right
tackle, respectively, but porous line play in the first three exhibitions
Much has been
made of the shotgun wedding of Tomlin and LeBeau. But the combination of the
former's cover-conscious philosophy and the latter's aggressive scheme will
work, because neither man has the Buddy Ryan-type pride of ownership that could
cause dissension. "I've learned so much from Dick," Tomlin says. "I
know it's going to make me a better coach. Our system will benefit from ideas
in both schemes.'' There is likely to be less blitzing-- Tomlin wants to protect
a shaky coverage secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.3%
of their throws last year--but not a major switch from what LeBeau has done in
Pittsburgh the last three years.