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Monday, October 6, 2008
Time to put Steelers among NFL's elite


Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Overcoming a perennial nemesis is rarely an easy task, especially on the road. But a resilient Pittsburgh Steelers team found a way Sunday night with a hard-fought, 26-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Despite numerous injuries that stemmed from three consecutive physical contests, a shorthanded Pittsburgh team came into Jacksonville Municipal Stadium with no excuses and grinded out its biggest signature win this season.

The Jaguars, winners of their four previous meetings with Pittsburgh, had the Steelers' number. Jacksonville swept Pittsburgh in two games last season, including a playoff win at Heinz Field.

But on this night, the Steelers had just enough resolve and depth to get over the hump as they head into a much-needed bye week at 4-1.

Here are three things we learned about Pittsburgh in the process:

1. The Steelers are deep

Backup running back Mewelde Moore led Pittsburgh in rushing with 99 yards.

 
 Fernando Medina/US Presswire
 Ben Roethlisberger threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns Sunday night.

Backup receiver Nate Washington led the Steelers with 94 receiving yards, including a 48-yard touchdown catch.

Backup defensive linemen Chris Hoke, Orpheus Roye, Travis Kirschke played productive and significant snaps as replacements for Brett Keisel (calf), Casey Hampton (groin) and Nick Eason (groin).

Notice the trend?

"We have some guys that can definitely step up and play," Washington said of the reserves. "Coach always instills in us that our level of expectations is not going to change. No matter who's in there, he's going to play just the same as the guy that's played all season."

2. Big Ben ready to go no huddle

Ben Roethlisberger came into the NFL five seasons ago as a "caretaking" rookie quarterback and gradually developed into one of the top signal-callers.

Now it's time for Roethlisberger to take the next step of completely owning his offense, and that includes running the no-huddle during the course of the game.

Only a handful of teams and quarterbacks can do it successfully. At times against the Jags, Roethlisberger excelled at calling his own plays and running the team at the line of scrimmage.

The idea came to fruition by force last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Although Roethlisberger had clamored to go no-huddle before, it took numerous poor offensive performances this season before head coach Mike Tomlin and coordinator Bruce Arians finally gave their quarterback the keys to the unit.

The no-huddle attack has given the Steelers an added dimension against opponents. After sputtering early, Pittsburgh has scored 46 points in the past seven quarters (including overtime) since experimenting with the no-huddle against the Ravens in the second half.

Roethlisberger's eyes seem to light up with the opportunity when he has full control.

"It was great," Roethlisberger said. "You have to give a lot of credit to those guys up front, the tight ends, receivers, everybody. We ran the no-huddle almost the whole time without even using the count and without me even talking -- really ...It's always fun."

3. It's time to consider Pittsburgh among the elite

Week 5 was a telling weekend in the NFL.

After several close victories against mostly mediocre teams, the Buffalo Bills (4-1) showed their true colors Sunday with a blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

The San Diego Chargers (2-3) are proving that talent isn't everything.

The Dallas Cowboys (4-1) showed a lot of flaws in a Week 4 loss to the Washington Redskins and even in a victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals.

As other top-flight teams are falling down a rung or two, it's time to begin putting the Steelers in the conversation as one of the elite squads. Pittsburgh is not perfect, but the Steelers have been more consistent than many other teams this season.

The Steelers are 2-0 at home and a solid 2-1 on the road this year. After playing and proving it can win shorthanded the past two weeks, Pittsburgh should come back healthy and near full strength when it plays the Cincinnati Bengals (0-5) on Oct. 19.

"I think with every experience that we share, we're learning about ourselves and each other," Tomlin said. "We don't have a preconceived notion about who we are or what we're going to be. We're just living [in the moment], and they just lived it tonight. Hopefully this experience will strengthen us and bring us closer together. I'm sure it will."