Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Big Ben gaining more control of the offense

By Jamison Hensley

In his second season in Todd Haley's system, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has an increased comfort level, and apparently, increased control.

Ben Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger says he's growing more comfortable with coordinator Todd Haley's system.
A week removed from Roethlisberger talking about a group effort -- from Haley down to the players -- tweaking the offense, running back Jonathan Dwyer told The NFL Network that it was the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback who had major input after repeatedly meeting with Haley. Roethlisberger declined to discuss the changes on offense, but it sounds like he will have more freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage.

"We're growing and we're learning and we're communicating," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "This year, more of us know what's going on, so we can coach each other up instead of always having questions, going to coaches to get answers."

How much control Roethlisberger has on the direction of the offense will be measured by the distance of his passes. Last season, Haley installed a quick-hitting, short passing game -- a "dink and dunk offense," Roethlisberger once called it -- which was much different from the vertical attack under Bruce Arians.

Roethlisberger's yards per attempt (7.3) and 40-yard passes (six) were his lowest since 2008. His completions over 20 yards dropped from 56 in 2011 to 39 in 2012. Surprisingly, rookies Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill had more 20-yard strikes than Roethlisberger last season.

It would be wrong to assume the Steelers can't throw deep this season because they lost Mike Wallace, who signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders each had more 20-yard catches than Wallace last season. And, as Sanders pointed out, the Steelers still have speed without Wallace.

"I ran a 4.3, Antonio Brown ran a 4.3, (rookie Markus) Wheaton ran a 4.3," Sanders said, reeling off 40-yard dash times. "We all can run, we all can stretch the field."

The question is whether Roethlisberger and the Steelers receivers will get more opportunities to stretch the field.