On the Steelers: Pushing the ball to push playoff hopes
Offense focuses on points per minute STEELERS
Saturday, December 26, 2009
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Among the games played within the game is this one from the suddenly resurgent quick-strike Steelers offense: The unit's objective is to average one point for every minute of possession time.

The offense attained its goal in the comeback 37-36 victory against the Green Bay Packers, a game in which the Steelers' time of possession was 35 minutes, 22 seconds. They did so thanks to the return of the big pass play -- a season-high 10 of them of 20 yards or longer, including a season-best 60-yard touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger to rookie receiver Mike Wallace on the first offensive play.

They have not been able to maintain that pace for the season -- the Steelers have averaged 22.5 points and 32 1/2 minutes of possession in 14 games -- but they might have to do that, and more, in the final two games if they want to keep alive their wild-card playoff hopes.

Maintaining a point-per-minute ratio is difficult to do, even for the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, the top scoring teams in the AFC and NFC, respectively. But, with a leaky defense that continues to falter and collapse in the fourth quarter, it might become imperative for the Steelers to crank up the offensive engine.

That, though, might be difficult to do Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens (8-6), who are second in the National Football League in fewest points allowed (225).

"B.A. always wants us to score as many points as minutes [we have] time of possession -- that's a good goal for us," Roethlisberger said, referring to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "It's something we strive for. We feel we have a really good offense. We should put at least three points on the board every time we have the ball. That's what we want to do. Other teams have good defenses, but, offensively, we hold ourselves to high standards."

"It's very realistic," receiver Hines Ward said of the point-per-minute standard. "We have two 1,000-yard receivers, a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, Heath [Miller] is having his best season ... we have the weapons. It's just a matter of us jelling and being on the same page."

Ward was just a tad premature with some of his synopsis, but his point is well-founded. Roethlisberger needs just 151 passing yards to become the first 4,000-yard passer in team history and Rashard Mendenhall needs 32 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher in three seasons.

But, based on the way the offense performed against the Packers, Roethlisberger should eclipse that mark, oh, sometime in the second quarter against the Ravens. He passed for a team-record 503 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers and was able to produce 13 points in the final quarter when the defense blew a 24-14 lead.

It was the third time this season the Steelers have allowed 21 or more points in the fourth quarter.

And he didn't connect for big pass plays just to Ward and Santonio Holmes. Miller caught three of the passes of 20 yards or longer and Mendenhall had two, each of 25 yards.

"It's good to be able to do that because it stretches the defense out and opens the underneath stuff and the running game," Roethlisberger said. "Those big plays are quick strikes. If you get big plays like that on the first play of the game, it does something for your team."

The Steelers rushed a season-high 38 times for 153 yards in the first meeting against the Ravens, their third-highest total of the season. But they did that primarily because they were playing without Roethlisberger (concussion) and trying not to heap too much responsibility on backup Dennis Dixon in his first NFL start.

Conversely, the Steelers had only 19 rushes for 65 yards against the Packers, their second-lowest totals of the season for each. But that was primarily because they had to keep answering for their defensive deficiencies.

"I see them as being a team that's committed to running the ball and runs the ball very well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "If you don't make a concerted effort and commit yourself to stopping the run, they will hurt you with the run. And people have to do that.

"If you're on the offensive side, you're going to throw it if you get those kinds of looks. And they can. They've got playmakers everywhere, at all of the receiver positions and the running backs and quarterback. So they're wise to use those guys the way they do."

Especially if they can produce a point per minute.


NOTES -- OLB James Harrison (biceps) did not practice yesterday after injuring his arm in practice Thursday. He has been placed on the injury report and listed as questionable for the game. ... WRs Hines Ward (hamstring) and Mike Wallace (leg laceration), RB Rashard Mendenhall (hip) and DE Brett Keisel (stinger) each practiced for the second day in a row and will play. S Troy Polamalu (knee) and G Chris Kemoeatu (knee, wrist) have been ruled out.

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