On the Steelers: Offense provides a glimpse of promise

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Lost in all the losses, lost in all the turnovers on and off the field and the "total panic mode" they've now been in for a month, is a glimmer of hope for the Steelers.

It can be found in their offense, which had to dig itself out of a hole not of its own doing from the start of the season. The Steelers offense started the regular season without two key components -- 2012 team MVP Heath Miller and the halfback they planned to rebuild the ground game around, rookie Le'Veon Bell.

Then, on the first series of the first game, they lost three-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to an injury.

It should have been no surprise that they stutter-stepped out of the gate. But lately, they've shown signs they can be a competent offense and maybe more than that.

Miller and Bell returned and are working back into full-time play, and the passing game has kicked into high gear. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and others are setting a blistering pace in the passing game that will shatter many team records if it continues.

Roethlisberger has passed for 789 yards the past two games, the most he has accumulated in consecutive weeks. He's on pace for nearly 5,000 yards passing (his team record is 4,328). Brown, with 32 receptions for 412 yards, is well on pace to snap Hines Ward's dual records of 112 receptions and 1,398 yards. Even No. 3 receiver Jerricho Cotchery is nearly on pace to reach 1,000 yards with 248 after four games.

If Bell and the running game can round into shape, the Steelers might find the kind of offense they planned.

"We all understand how good we can be and how we can affect the outcome of ballgames, and that's what we have to do," Brown said.

"We're starting to click real [well]," said guard David DeCastro. "We have been improving after a rough start. I agree we're starting to get some pieces back and all pieces we have are melting together.

"We have to get it going --now."

Roethlisberger understands some of those passing statistics are a reflection of his team falling behind early and trying to catch up. The Steelers have not had a lead in the second half this season.

"You always look at some of these quarterbacks who put up huge numbers," Roethlisberger noted. "It's usually because their team is losing and they're trying to play catch-up at the end of the game. To me, I'd rather be a guy who has lower numbers because we're winning.

"That being said, I think it shows potential, the potential is there for us to be a dynamic passing offense."

They must solve three things before they can do that. They need to improve their performance at left tackle, get the NFL's 31st-rated running game untracked with Bell and cut down on the turnovers.

"I think it can spike up, we can be as good as we want to be," Brown said. "We just have to find a way to protect the ball, which will give us a better chance to win."

Because their play on defense has not been close to their standard, an improved offense might have to carry them to that first victory, and maybe beyond.

"I won't say pick the team up and carry it, but we're starting to do our job now," Cotchery said. "We're starting to move the ball and score points. It's starting to get to that. You saw flashes of the running game over in London, moving the ball. It's getting to the point where you see more consistency."

Bell, in his first game, ran 16 times for 57 yards in that 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and had the Steelers' only two rushing touchdowns of the season. He also caught four passes for another 27 yards.

They remain intrigued with what they can accomplish if Bell ignites their running game to go with their strong passing attack.

"To me, our best offense is being balanced," Roethlisberger said. "It's not running the ball on first and second down and throwing on third. It's mixing things in, throwing screens -- Le'Veon did great in the screen game the other night, the check-downs, he did a good job. We can use him in more ways than just one."

Another call-back

Will Allen could not get his No. 26 jersey again -- "I didn't even try," he said -- but he did get his old job back with the Steelers, as backup safety and special teams player.

Returning to the Steelers has become popular these days.

"It seems that everybody leaves here and comes back at some point," said Allen, who will wear No. 20 because Bell has his old number. "I'm just very thankful."

Allen is the second Steelers defender to be re-signed this week, after linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, and third this season, counting the return of cornerback William Gay.

Halfback Jonathan Dwyer was released before the season, then re-signed after the first game.

Allen played the previous three seasons for the Steelers and started seven games in 2012 for an injured Troy Polamalu. He signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, where he started two games this season. The Cowboys released him this week after their 51-48 loss Sunday to Denver in which Allen was penalized for holding, nullifying a 60-yard kickoff return.

"It was a good opportunity," Allen said. "Obviously, the opportunity is no longer there and they let me go."

The Steelers, who will pay Allen $630,000 the rest of the way, found out they could not win without him, as the joke might go.

"It's a winning tradition around here," Allen said. "That's what's expected. It's just time to turn that [losing] around, make some changes and get some wins."

The Steelers waived injured safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith to make room for Allen on their 53-man roster.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published October 10, 2013 8:00 PM

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