Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coordinator Bruce Arians discussed the Steelers' red-zone problems on offense this week, and both came to the same conclusion: They are held back by their eagerness to reach the end zone.
Could the key to scoring six points instead of three actually lie in the philosophy of trying too hard? Might they reach their goal by settling for less on first down?
The Steelers rank 27th in the NFL, scoring touchdowns just 44.4 percent of the time once they pull inside the opponent's 20.
"B.A. and I talked about it a little bit the other day," Roethlisberger said. "I think we both had the same mindset; you get down there and it's 'how can we score on this play?' "
Instead of trying to get it all on first down, they plan to take a different approach.
"We're trying to take the mentality of not trying to score every time," Roethlisberger said. "You know, you get down there and you almost get greedy -- score, score, score, score -- where maybe it's better to take the 5-yard route, put yourself in second-and-5 and now you can run the ball, and, if you get 1 or 2 yards, you're in third-and-short."
Against Cincinnati, the Steelers had first downs at the Bengals' 5 once and at the 9 another time and settled for field goals. They reached the Bengals' 15 on another occasion and punted after going backward. In Baltimore the previous week, they had a first down at the 2 and wound up kicking a field goal.
"Our first-and-10 passing has not been very good," Arians noted. "It's probably a little bit of my fault going for the end zone too much instead of going for a couple short ones."
That was one of two areas Arians mentioned that have failed the Steelers in the red zone. He called the team's running game inside the 20 "poor."
"We're averaging about 1.5 a carry from the 20 down," Arians said. "Actually in our goal-line offense, we've been very, very good; it's just we don't get in there often."
Arians blamed the blocking and not halfback Rashard Mendenhall for the inability to run effectively in the red zone.
"It's not him. We have to block better. It's normal this time of the year. About everything you do is on tape; you're not going to surprise anybody with very many new things. You got to block 'em and make people miss."
The Steelers have cracked the 20 36 times and come away with 16 touchdowns and 16 field goals. It has become exasperating for them recently because the offense has managed just one touchdown in the past 11 quarters, on a 9-yard drive to beat Baltimore after Troy Polamalu created a turnover.
"We want to score touchdowns,'' coach Mike Tomlin proclaimed this week. "In the recent past, we haven't done as well as we'd like. There are a myriad of reasons, usually centered around execution and detail. We're going to work toward getting better this week ... we're not executing in that area to our liking because we're not executing in that area to our liking."
Steelers tight end Heath Miller suffered a setback with his concussion and did not practice Thursday, which leaves his status for the game Sunday against the New York Jets in doubt.
Miller missed the game against Cincinnati because of a concussion he sustained Dec. 5 at Baltimore. Matt Spaeth replaced him in the lineup.
Miller practiced for the first time since then Wednesday, but sat out today when he experienced a mild headache.
"He experienced a little headache," said Arians. "Very cautious. We're not going to take any chances with him."
Arians hopes Miller can practice Friday and play Sunday, but the team will not take any chances.
"I sure have my fingers crossed, I hope so, but we're going to do what's in his best interests, his family's," Arians said. "We're not going to force anything. He's smart enough to make the right decision."
Safety Troy Polamalu believes fellow Southern California product Mark Sanchez landed in an ideal spot for a young quarterback when he was drafted by the New York Jets.
"Honestly, he's surrounded by a lot of great talent, that's the obvious thing," said Polamalu, who said he met Sanchez once briefly. "He doesn't have the pressure that any other quarterback has, given that he plays with a solid defense and an awesome running game, which is nice as a quarterback. And he makes plays whenever they call upon him to make plays, at least he was doing that earlier in the season."
Offensive tackle Flozell Adams, 35, returned to practice Thursday and, despite lingering effects from a sprained ankle, appears ready to make his 14th consecutive start with the Steelers. It would be the 78th consecutive start (82nd including playoffs) for Adams, who played with the Dallas Cowboys until he signed with this summer as a free agent.
Adams moved into the Cowboys' starting lineup as a rookie in 1998, when he started 12 games between guard and tackle. The only time he has missed a start since then was in 2005 when he missed the final 10 games with a torn ACL.
Cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring) returned to practice. And linebacker James Harrison was ill and did not practice.