Coordinators reflect, look ahead

LATROBE -- Dick LeBeau flashed a look that said, "You're kidding me."

The question was: Dick, your defense gave up another deep pass over the middle last week. Are you concerned this is becoming a trend?

LeBeau, the Steelers' defensive coordinator, was surprised. He thought someone wanted to talk about a defense that smothered the Miami Dolphins last Saturday night.

The Steelers' first-team defense was on the field for eight Dolphins possessions. The unit outscored the Dolphins, 7-0, allowed 68 yards, 3 first downs, 8 yards rushing on 5 carries. And you want to talk to me about the 42-yard pass we gave up to midfield?

Yes, that look.

But the Steelers' first team had allowed three 21-yard completions against Philadelphia in the preseason opener. And there were the two bombs that beat them in the AFC Championship game. The 42-yarder to speedster Wesley Welker was 62 percent of Miami's first-team output, but it continued a disturbing trend.

"We had a very good statistical game against Miami, and one play is not going to change that," LeBeau said. "We would like to have no good plays, and you're always concerned about the big play and you have to cut those off, but for the most part we've done a pretty good job of that this preseason."

The Steelers have allowed only 10 first-half points in two games. Their first-team defense has scored 14. Those types of numbers could continue tonight at Washington (8 p.m. FOX) against a Redskins offense that's scored only one first-half touchdown this preseason.

On the other hand, the Steelers' sluggish offense will be challenged by a Redskins defense that finished third in the NFL last season. Steelers coach Bill Cowher always wants his team to play well in the third preseason game, and that will require offensive improvement.

The Steelers' first-team offense hasn't scored in 9 series. They have produced 9 first downs, leading coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to believe they're close to coming together.

"It would concern me more if we hadn't had opportunities," Whisenhunt said. "We've had opportunities, we just haven't hit, like the Cedrick-Ben thing. I think those things in time will clear themselves up."

Ben Roethlisberger missed Cedrick Wilson in the end zone with a high pass that bounced off Wilson's outstretched hand.

Roethlisberger has a passer rating of 36.5 this preseason, but Whisenhunt isn't concerned.

"He's really improving as far as his game management, his understanding of the offense and going through the reads," Whisenhunt said.

Roethlisberger has also appeared unsteady with his mechanics.

"He's hard to judge because he can throw the ball from any position," Whisenhunt said for the second time this week. "That's a great asset for a quarterback to have. You don't want to take that away from him."

Whisenhunt agreed that Roethlisberger didn't play well last preseason, when he had a passer rating of 71.4 as a back-up.

"He didn't, but his focus out here on the practice field has been excellent. To me, that's what really makes a difference."

By way of a camp summation, Whisenhunt said his concerns about depth at wide receiver and running back have eased. He also believes his offense is leaving camp with the same physical edge it left with a year ago. The Steelers' first-team offense is averaging 6.2 yards per rush; their first-team defense allows 2.9 per rush.

"Those guys have really done a good job, especially our first unit," Whisenhunt said. "We've had some mental mistakes in the second half that have led to some negative yardage, but if you look at Jerome (Bettis) he's had a couple of 5 and 6-yard runs; the pound-it-up-in-there style of run that we always get better with as we get more reps. So they've done a good job with the run game."

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