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Steelers Notebook

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Expect to see more trickery from the Pittsburgh offense in the coming weeks, possibly including a familiar play design that might give fans flashbacks of 2005. The Steelers coaching staff has revived the idea of using WR Antwaan Randle El with the football in his hands behind the line of scrimmage, whether it be as a passer or in a gadget play where he gets the ball back to the quarterback. Also, don’t be surprised to see a “surprise” onside kick at some point in the season, echoing the bold call New Orleans head coach Sean Payton made to start the second half in the Super Bowl. The team has been running a number of onside kick attempts in practice and could unveil the move on an unsuspecting opponent.
A number of young players have been missing in action in terms of seeing action on their respective sides of the ball. WR Antonio Brown was inactive five consecutive games, losing his gameday spot to fellow-rookie Emmanuel Sanders, until he dressed against Oakland when Will Allen was out with a concussion. His best hope of returning to the fold (outside of an injury to another pass-catcher) is to leapfrog veteran-receiver Arnaz Battle. To do that, Brown will have to prove his worth on special teams as there are only limited opportunities offensively for whoever plays as the team’s fifth wideout. Battle, who has served in that role in every game this season until Brown leap-frogged him against Oakland, has only been on the field for six snaps on offense.
Defensively, both rookie LB Jason Worilds and second-year CB Keenan Lewis have been absent from the defensive gameplan. Worilds has been active for most of Pittsburgh’s matchups, but primarily as a special teams player, though he did receive some playing time with LaMarr Woodley injured in Week 7. His limited usage is hardly a surprise; the team rarely plays rookie linebackers and the starters ahead of him almost never leave the field. Lewis’ absence has been more noticeable. Even with both Bryant McFadden and William Gay struggling at times this season, Lewis has been unable to push himself into the team’s plans at cornerback. He has been inactive for the majority of the season as the team has elected to start four cornerbacks for most contests, with veteran and special-teams performer Anthony Madison holding the fourth spot. Like Brown on offense, Lewis will have to prove himself as a special-teamer first before the coaches give him playing time on defense.
Pittsburgh’s offense is having a problem registering success on its opening drives of both the game and the second half, something offensive coordinator Bruce Arians noted after a recent practice. Pittsburgh has scored just three out of ten times to open the game, with Antonio Brown’s Week 2 kickoff return serving as one of those three scores. The second half has been worse for the offense as they’ve only managed six points (two field goals) on the team’s opening drive of the second half. What’s even more troubling is that five of the team’s ten second-half opening drives actually resulted in zero or negative yardage for the team.
While Rashard Mendenhall has improved his play in the passing game, Mewelde Moore is back as the team’s go-to guy when forced to take to the air. In a New England game that saw Pittsburgh trail all evening, Mewelde emerged as the team’s primary option in the backfield, receiving three times as many snaps as the starter. Though Mendenhall still led the team in carries (with a season-low 11 totes), Moore was the team’s second-leading yardage gainer through the air.

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