Steelers offense not lacking for options
PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger might not just be at the controls of the NFL's most dynamic offense, but perhaps its most democratic.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is in the pocket - and sometimes when he's not - he doesn't do a quick rundown of each option's resume.
He searches for the best matchup and he fires. That's pretty much it.
''I've been in the league long enough to know every single receiver is open on every single play,'' Roethlisberger said with a laugh.
Even when they're not, though that hasn't been the case often during Pittsburgh's 2-0 start, a testament to Roethlisberger's rising confidence in what may be the league's best set of weapons even with Martavis Bryant sitting out the entire season because of a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.
The proof is in the box score. Roethlisberger spread his 19 completions in last Sunday's 24-16 victory over Cincinnati to nine players.
When the Bengals made it clear their focus was slowing down the seemingly unstoppable Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger stretched the field by going deep to Sammie Coates and having 6-foot-7 Jesse James and 6-4 Xavier Grimble basically posting up in the red zone .
Even backup running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and blocking tight end David Johnson got at least one ball their way.
''Are they going to get their yards? Yeah they're going to get their yards,'' said Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson, whose team hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday.
''They're too good not to get them and Ben's too good to not get the ball to them. He's utilizing a lot of those guys and he's getting the ball out of his hands fast.''
And to think Markus Wheaton - the No. 2 receiver - hasn't played a snap yet while nursing a sprained shoulder and Le'Veon Bell - is out one more week while serving a drug suspension.
''Everybody's got a different aspect they bring to the game,'' Coates said. ''That's what's so good about our group.''
One in which Coates is doing a pretty good job filling the void as the deep threat while Bryant tries to get his career back on track.
A fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft, Coates spent the majority of his rookie season watching from the sideline in sweatpants after failing to make the active roster on game days. It was a humbling experience being healthy, but deemed not essential.
''When you first get in the league, you've got a lot to learn,'' Coates said. ''You've got to compete.''
And earn Roethlisberger's trust too. Their budding chemistry was on full display against Cincinnati, when Roethlisberger escaped pressure and rolled to his left before dropping a rainbow that Coates hauled in over his shoulder for a 44-yard gain .
A year ago, Coates probably doesn't turn upfield almost instinctively at the site of his quarterback in trouble.
''There was no hesitation,'' Roethlisberger said. ''I kind of pointed for him to go deep and he took off right away and made a great play. That's some really good positive stuff you see from a young guy who hasn't had a lot of experience and playing time with me.''
It helps that the Steelers do their best to simulate those situations in practice.
There are times when the play breaks down and instead of blowing the whistle, the coaches let Roethlisberger and the receivers ad lib.
He also makes it a point to find role players even when they're not the first (or second or third for that matter) read so they remain engaged.
Grimble hadn't caught a pass in a game that counted since his junior year at USC in 2013 and yet Roethlisberger didn't hesitate when he saw Grimble lined up one-on-one late in the first quarter, a play that ended with Grimble stretching across the goal line for a 20-yard score .
''I'm throwing to every one of them every day, multiple times. For me, when they're out there I should know who's out there. It should just be a constant flow of whose going. I have faith in all them and they have faith in me that we can get it done.''
Even on the rare occasions when Brown can't quite seem to get going.
The Bengals held the All-Pro to four receptions, Brown's fewest in a game Roethlisberger has started since final game of the 2012 regular season.
Brown was diplomatic afterward while admitting he would have preferred to see more action. That's just AB being AB.
''He's helping us even when he's catching three or four balls,'' Roethlisberger said. ''He's taking a lot of attention away from other guys.''
NOTES: Wheaton participated and is optimistic he'll play against the Eagles. ... FB Rosie Nix (back) was limited.
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