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Old 11-22-2008, 09:49 AM   #1
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Default Roethlisberger's 'return' lifts offense

Roethlisberger's 'return' lifts offense
By Mike Prisuta
Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Steelers got their tight end back when they hosted Cincinnati.

More importantly, they got their quarterback back.

Not that Ben Roethlisberger had been out of the lineup for the past two games, as Heath Miller had. But Roethlisberger clearly hadn't been himself.

He'd obviously been hurting since sitting out the second half Nov. 3 at Washington, and the rest of the offense had been feeling his pain.

So had those who had watched him play against Indianapolis and San Diego.

That was especially painful against the Chargers, when the Steelers started Roethlisberger but wound up with Check-Down Charlie.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said he didn't necessarily have a problem with a "check-down, touchdown" approach as Roethlisberger mended. Trouble was, the "touchdown" part of that equation was missing in action against San Diego.

That changed dramatically Thursday night.

When, for example, was the last time Roethlisberger was spotted escaping the pocket, pointing with his left hand and firing on the run at a target improv-style?

When was the last time he launched balls down the field with regularity?

When was the last time he dragged defenders for a first down, or eluded them up the gut on the way to a touchdown?

No offense to Miller, who was as missed during his absence as he is much-appreciated in the red zone, but the guy the Steelers most enthusiastically welcomed back during their 27-10 triumph over the Bengals was No. 7.

"It's taking what the defense gives you," Roethlisberger said. "That's what we've been trying to do the last couple weeks.

"It's a good balance."

If Roethlisberger can stay relatively healthy the rest of the way -- an "if" as big as the upcoming four-game stretch at New England, against Dallas, at Baltimore and at Tennessee is foreboding -- the course of the Steelers' season may have been altered now that such a delicate balance has been recognized and appreciated.

Pre-injury, Roethlisberger too often held the ball too long in pursuit of game-changing big plays he often paid a price to make.

Post-injury, he dinked and dunked and dumped and looked more like Chad Pennington than Big Ben.

The guy under center against Cincinnati looked suspiciously like a guy who had found a happy medium.

In stumbling upon what might prove to be an invaluable balance in the passing game against the Bengals, the Steelers struck down the field for the "chunks" of yards Arians rightfully covets and they struck on screens, more effectively, in Mike Tomlin's estimation, than they had all season in the short passing game.

If you're still searching for an identity for this offense, look no further.

At their best, they'll be a team that takes what's given and takes what they want.

As it has been since the Super Bowl run in 2005, the offense must first and foremost revolve around Roethlisberger working to Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and Miller.

The running game can, and should, be a critical complement to what the Steelers are trying to get done.

But it's Big Ben who will take them where they want to go.

He need not be Superman thanks to the presence of the NFL's best defense.

But too much Check-Down Charlie just won't cut it.

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