Roethlisberger Leads New Offensive Approach In Week 8 Win Over Patriots

A day before Halloween, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger unveiled his costume in front of 65,000 fans at Heinz Field and a national television audience. 

Roethlisberger donned a white Patriots jersey bearing the No. 12, and did his best Tom-Brady-At-Heinz-Field impression. 

He was efficient (72 percent completion), he was lethal (9-for-12 passing on third down for 104 yards and two touchdowns) and downright frustrating (nine receivers caught at least one pass, and six of them caught at least two). 

He was Brady, minus the big plays. 

It wasn't as if he needed them, but it shows a complete reversal for the budding Pro Bowl passer, who, going into this week's game, ranked in the bottom third of the league in completion percentage on throws of 20+ yards. 

Instead, attacking often from an empty set formation, the Steelers attempted 39 passes of 10 yards or less - 20 more than their average through the first seven games - completing 32-of-39 passes (79.5 percent) and throwing both of his touchdowns from under that distance. 

It seemed like a predictable offense, yet, New England appeared shocked on the first drive, when Roethlisberger passed on nine of the opening 11 plays, culminating in a five-yard pass to RB Mewelde Moore - the first of the year for the veteran. 

The Steelers offense was too much for the Patriots coverage. Too many weapons, Roethlisberger released the ball quickly for completions, he moved around the pocket to make throws and made completions and was at his best on third downs. 

Brady oozed through his veins, flowing out of him in his decision-making. Biting on deeper routes run by the receivers, Roethlisberger beat the Patriots middle blitzes on two completions to TE Heath Miller, who was ignored on the opening drive. 

After forcing a quick three-and-out, Roethlisberger kept the masquerade going, throwing 12 times in a 16-play drive that resulted in a Shaun Suisham field goal. 

At the end of the first quarter, the Steelers led 10-0, held the ball for 13:36 and ran 27 plays. Roethlisberger was on pace to throw 84 times, with TE Heath Miller on pace to grab 28 of those. 

Roethlisberger's ability to play small had never been tested so deep into a game. His commitment to not throw deep never wavered. The Steelers always seem to regress to the norm when it comes to running the football but not Sunday. As a result, their running game was particularly efficient in the second half. New England was forced to dig deep into its beleaguered secondary to match up with the multitude of Steelers receivers. Up front, RB Rashard Mendenhall was able to pound out yardage after contact, ending up with a respectable 70 yards on 13 carries. 

That helped Pittsburgh own a huge margin in time of possession (39:22 to 20:38), with only two of their nine drives were less than two minutes long. The Patriots hadn't trailed for more than 10 minutes all season, and the Steelers got up early and stayed on top. 

It was a shift of power in the AFC, with the red-hot Steelers winning their fourth game in a row after a 2-2 start. With Baltimore's come-from-behind win over Arizona and Cincinnati's dismantling of Seattle, the AFC North race heats up considerably, with the Steelers hosting Baltimore in Week 9 and traveling to Cincinnati in Week 10 before a bye week. 

The significant philosophical change in Pittsburgh's offense shown against New England was likely driven by New England's struggles against the pass this season, and the lack of depth they had at cornerback - veteran Leigh Bodden was released and rookie Ras-I Dowling was placed on Injured-Reserve before the game. It's unclear whether a similar strategy will be used against Baltimore, or the tough run defense of the Bengals, but one thing is clear; the Steelers offense is a force to be reckoned with, and it's no longer as simple as three yards and a cloud of dust. 

Be warned, contenders of the AFC. 

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