For Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, it's all about the shoes.
Or, the fact his two feet are in those shoes, with both of them having ground under them.
When the Steelers protect Roethlisberger, good things happen. That was the sentiment veteran LT Max Starks shared after Sunday's 38-17 win over Tennessee.
"Our biggest goal was to keep (Roethlisberger) upright," Starks said. "And we knew he'd perform if we did that."
Nevermind the trademarked "Roethlisberger Shoe" he wore to protect a sprained foot sustained after multiple hits from failed protection in the first four games of the season. Roethlisberger relied on some shored up protection and an offensive game plan that attacked the short-to-mid level of the middle of the field to tie the franchise record of five touchdown passes - a mark he shares with Terry Bradshaw and Mark Malone.
Much of the credit for the Steelers offensive explosion (431 total yards, 7-for-12 on 3rd down, 4-for-5 in the red zone) against Tennessee is due a unique if not unorthodox approach in preparation this week. Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians doled out an even attack of run and pass, laced with spicy creativity and flair. Much of it fed off play-action, and the parts that didn't fed off the idea the Titans were expecting play-action.
The Steelers kept it short, released the ball quickly and to a variety of players from a variety of formations. It led to less sacks and more yards gained.
But it wasn't about being "balanced." Balance as a pre-game goal is overrated. Being "dynamic" is better. A balanced offense is equally successful running and passing. A dynamic offense is unpredictable - multiple sets and the willingness and ability to run and pass out of all of them.
An offense can't be truly balanced without being dynamic. And when you can do anything from any formation, you're dangerous.
Sunday was a perfect example of success in that arena. Of Roethlisberger's five touchdown passes, three were off play action (Hines Ward 1, David Johnson and Mike Wallace). The other two were with empty set backfields (Ward 2, Heath Miller).
The Steelers would come onto the field in their heavy packages (two and sometimes three tight ends), so Tennessee geared up for power running. Instead, Roethlisberger hit Miller and Johnson for scores. Tennessee had to respect the run, so the Steelers made them pay for it.
It's all about being dynamic.
On the Miller touchdown drive, the score came on the 10th play, with five runs and four passes coming in the previous nine plays. RB Isaac Redman is in the backfield, and motions out to the offensive right side, split and on the line. Tennessee came out in their base 4-3 package out of respect to the run. Before Redman moved onto the line, it made sense. It's a run formation; Miller and Johnson in tight on the right side, Ward slot left, Wallace wide left.
When Redman splits out, the Steelers reveal the dynamics of their offense. Now, they're representing a passing formation, with the game's most dangerous receiver split wide, and two of the best inside-the-hashes receivers in the game, plus, two other receivers that need to be accounted for.
Foot injury or no, Roethlisberger is a threat to tuck it and run, especially when he's inside the 10-yard-line.
Redman's motion changes CB Jason McCourty's position, moving him away from the edge. It also backs LB Akeem Ayers off Johnson, the last guy on the line. That gives Johnson a free release with room to run an effective pattern.
At the snap, Wallace and Ward clear out to the left side of the end zone. Johnson runs a post-corner, looking to take Ayers away from the of the middle portion of the field. Redman runs a delayed in route behind Miller to freeze McCourty.
Miller is going against zone coverage from two linebackers. He sits down between them at the goal line. Roethlisberger's throw is right on the money.
"HEEEEEEATH!" yells the Heinz Field crowd after his first touchdown catch of the year.
It was so easy, it was as if they planned it. They did, but not just with the play call. It was all predicated on the four Redman runs on the drive that yielded 1, 2, 2 and zero yards, respectively.
All those nauseating runs for no gain have a larger purpose than just that one play. Tennessee saw the Steelers coming out with a physical personnel group, and assumed a run was coming. But they couldn't counter with a heavy package of their own because the Steelers had also thrown the ball successfully, and have dynamic players on the field.
From a bigger picture perspective, the Titans had seen tape of how the Steelers use Redman in their passing game, so they had to respect it. From a personnel perspective, their ability to find multi-dimensional players like Miller, Redman and Johnson led to Arians' ability to call that play, and for Roethlisberger to run it successfully.
The Steelers offense was at its best in Week 5. The continuance of spreading the ball around both in the air and on the ground will pay dividends as the season progresses.