PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger was asked Wednesday about the identity of the high-powered Pittsburgh Steelers attack. He said there are "a lot of different weapons" in place, but the Steelers will have to wait and see what happens.
Regarding expectations for the big four -- Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, who have been reunited after not working together much the past two years -- Roethlisberger again said, "Wait and see. I don't know. We'll see."
Those four players logged 21 minutes of game action together over the last two seasons. Couple that with Bell's absence for all of August, and the chemistry needs more than one week to develop.
"We knew we’d come out a little rusty," Brown said. "We have a lot of room to grow and improve."
Brown (11 catches, 182 yards) wasn't speaking about himself after making numerous plays to help seal the game, including a ridiculous jump ball over two Browns defenders at midfield in the final minutes. Referring to the 38-yard, high-arcing pass to Brown, Roethlisberger said, "This isn't our first rodeo together." The trust between QB and receiver is still intact.
Sure, Bell's apparent rust loomed large in a very un-Steeler-like performance of 32 yards on 10 carries, though coach Mike Tomlin isn't entertaining that convenient storyline.
"Bottom line is, we got highly penalized, that put us behind the chains and minimized the running game," said Tomlin, whose team racked up 144 penalty yards on 13 flags. "Write that."
The Steelers tried to get Bell involved after he looked good in practices, but they capped his workload just in case. Bell didn't get much playmaking help outside of Brown and tight end Jesse James. The formula: Brown single-handedly got the Steelers into the red zone, and James got the scores.
That will work in Cleveland, maybe even most weeks. But not against the best.
Bell's timing in the passing game looked off early on, to the point that Roethlisberger appeared to be communicating route depths after plays. Bell's 8 rushing yards in the first half matched the second-fewest for his career in the first 30 minutes of a game, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
"I don't think I was on the field as much as usual, so obviously it's not going to be the same numbers," said Bell, who added he'd like to be more involved in the offense. "But we won the game and that's the biggest thing about it."
Bryant's day was reduced to mostly screen work and the occasional intermediate route.
The best sign for Pittsburgh was converting 2-of-2 red zone trips into touchdowns, courtesy of James' two TD receptions: a 4-yard muscle catch in the back of the end zone and a 2-yard variation of a shovel-pass play. The Steelers were average in this area the past three years and need a major spike to have a chance at the 30-points-per-game clip the offense so covets. (Side note: The Steelers must have run seven or eight screens in the first 20 or so minutes. Not sure if NFL record books count screen stats, but this has to be in contention for most in a half.)
The Steelers tried a little bit of everything, to varied success. They went no-huddle. They went five wide. They went power run on third-and-1, which Bell and the offensive line couldn't pick up during the first half.
Meanwhile, the team was penalized for a gaudy 144 yards on 13 penalty flags.
But at least James answered questions about a tight end position that Tomlin last week called junior varsity. James took exception to that, and then answered with six catches for 41 yards and two scores. "We'll be productive," James said during the week.
Not everyone was productive, but the Steelers aren't above taking a sloppy win.
"First game [in the division], we’ll take a win any way we can get it," Roethlisberger said.