A Steelers offense under Landry Jones has some promise

PITTSBURGH -- Landry Jones said after Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots that moving the ball downfield was "no issue."

Jones, for the most part, was right. The Pittsburgh Steelers moved the ball on a top-10 defense without Ben Roethlisberger, which suggests the Week 9 matchup at Baltimore could be productive if Big Ben is still out.

That's a big step for the quarterback who threw four interceptions in one preseason game.

"The issue was in the red zone -- we kicked field goals instead of scoring touchdowns," said Jones, whose Steelers enter a bye.

It's hard to beat New England three points at a time. But the Steelers entered the game with a quarterback who looked comfortable operating his fourth year in Todd Haley's system. Jones even flirted with 300 passing yards without the looming threat of major mistakes.

The Steelers will take Jones' stat line of 29-of-47 for 281 yards, one touchdown and one interception. A holding penalty negated a well-executed second touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey off a crossing route. And the interception wasn't a misread, but a poorly thrown lob pass to the end zone that Malcolm Butler plucked out of the air.

Let's not get crazy. This isn't exactly the Big Ben-led offense that posted six straight games of 30 or more points last season. And Jones has been known for the occasional curious throw into a crowd of defenders during his three-plus years in Pittsburgh. Jones' nine passes defended or intercepted were the most by a Steelers quarterback since 2009, though five of them came in the fourth quarter.

But the Steelers had a good plan against New England, running misdirection plays and hesitation handoffs with Le'Veon Bell behind an offensive line motivated to re-establish the running game. Jones' protection was excellent. He remained clean all game. And they ran 69 plays to New England's 55.

They did exactly what they wanted to do, except score.

With Sammie Coates hampered by a finger injury and Antonio Brown sidelined briefly with a mid-game quad injury, Jones and the offense still manufactured one-on-one looks in the middle of the field. Most of Jones' yards came in the first half, but the Patriots' pass rush could tee off late while holding a lead, moving Jones out of the pocket.

Clean up the penalties -- 10 flags for 85 yards at home is brutal -- and perhaps the Steelers improve on that 1-for-4 red zone performance.

The Steelers always have a chance when Bell and Brown combine for 255 total yards. Bell has been masterful in four games. He's setting a pace for 2,356 total yards over a full season, which is 73 short of Marshall Faulk's yards-from-scrimmage record of 2,429. He's also averaging 7.5 catches per game, or 120 over 16 games.

"We moved the ball well," Bell said. "It wasn't the game plan. It wasn't, sometimes, even execution. I think we were executing well. ... It's a small margin for error against a team like that. When you are hurting yourself, putting yourself in first-and-long or second-and-long ... it's going to be hard to overcome that because they are good."

The Ravens always play Pittsburgh tough, and their defense is allowing 294.8 yards per game, good for sixth in the league. Baltimore will likely apply more pressure on Jones, so let's see if he can decipher the defense before the defensive ends collapse.

But this is an encouraging start for a Jones offense that held the ball for nearly 33 minutes.

And the Steelers should get Marcus Gilbert, one of the game's best right tackles, back in a few weeks.

Bell said the next step in a Jones offense is mastering the details that come naturally in a Big Ben offense because the group has worked so long together.

But the rest of the offense wants to do more to elevate Jones.

"I think he was making a lot of plays," left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said. "As an offense, we could have done a lot more to help him out [Sunday]."