Creating a splash: Steelers want to 'get vertical' after the catch

PITTSBURGH -- Call it vanilla preseason game-planning, but eight of Ben Roethlisberger's nine passes Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts were labeled as "short" in the box score, as were backup Landry Jones' first four passes.

The Steelers' offense is designed in part to rack up yards after the catch, which is why last year's team only ranking No. 12 in YAC (5.18 per catch) is a bit curious despite some injuries to the position. In 2014, the Steelers ranked third.

Slot receiver Eli Rogers knows where the offense needs to be.

"First," he said. "We've got great players. ... Our whole offense, from the running game to the quarterback to receivers, it will create great opportunities for us to showcase our talents."

The offensive lineup came into focus Saturday with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant on the outside, Rogers in the slot and Jesse James as the lead tight end. Running back Knile Davis kept the spot warm for soon-arriving Le'Veon Bell.

The deep ball is crucial to the Steelers' offense, but so is protecting Roethlisberger, who will often release the football in two seconds or less.

It's up to him to find the open man, and up to receivers to make the next defender miss.

After 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons, Bryant is expected to get downfield in a hurry. The Steelers ran multiple screen passes for Bryant on Saturday, and though he finished with 23 yards on five catches, he can break an explosive play at any time.

When asked what Bryant brings to the offense, Rogers looked bewildered. Speed? "Uh, yeah," Rogers said sarcastically.

"It's about using your juke moves, really about the will that you want it," said Bryant about big gains after the catch. "You just don’t want to go down when you catch the ball. Open space, one on ones, whatever we can to put our players in the best position to succeed."

Veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey knows coach Mike Tomlin's favorite phrase for the receivers all too well: When you get the ball, "show me something new."

Players say that although big plays can come from anywhere, one route in particular can open lanes: the shallow cross.

"If you break that one tackle, everyone else is man to man," Heyward-Bey said. "The only person who’s going to get you is the high safety."

The Steelers can always run a double cross with a receiver running a pick or a rub to spring a teammate. Officials won't call interference as long as you don't touch the defender, Bryant said.

Those plays won't be effective without a balanced run-pass attack. Running the ball forces a defense to "respect everything," Rogers said.

Once Roethlisberger finds you in the open space, the receiver must heed coordinator Todd Haley's advice and get vertical.

"It’s speed and understanding the dynamics on the field and angles guys are coming from," Rogers said. "Having the ability to make moves, use your different tools, stiff arm, things of that nature.

That's Rogers' formula for eclipsing last year's 48-catch performance. Rogers plans to get yardage "in every way this year."

Bryant likes the sound of that, whether gaining yards from the deep ball or taking a screen 70 yards.

"They both bring excitement, both are splash plays," Bryant said. "I’ll take either."