PITTSBURGH (AP) _ For all the new wrinkles in the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense _ four wide receivers occasionally on first and second downs, three tight ends in unusual alignments, no fullback on running plays _ there's something lacking in the preseason.
Namely, much offense.
In their last two games, the Steelers have managed 21 points, with only three points scored with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the game. The offense's inefficiency is becoming a concern given that Sunday's preseason game against Philadelphia is the last in which the starters will play more than a few downs.
Running back Willie Parker's knee injury that kept him out of the first two exhibition games and the ever-changing offensive line's instability have something to do with the inefficiency.
But if new coach Mike Tomlin is fretting after watching his offense produce only nine points Aug. 11 against Green Bay and 12 points Saturday against Washington, he's not showing it. And he's certainly not blaming the twists that new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is adding to former coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's system.
``It's not necessarily the case because of Bruce's winkles,'' Tomlin said. ``It's just the nature of football. Defenses generally progress better than offenses (in the preseason). It just takes offenses a little longer to get a rhythm. It's not an excuse, just the facts.''
Only two years ago, the Steelers proved that preseason problems need not linger into the regular season. The starting offense was similarly nonproductive during minimal preseason playing time, only to score 61 points in the first two regular season games.
Last year, the Steelers passed much more than usual while going 8-8, but that mostly resulted from them frequently playing catch-up after falling behind early.
Wide receiver Hines Ward isn't convinced Arians is remaking a run-first offense into a passing-dominated system, the way former coordinator Mike Mularkey unsuccessfully tried to do as the Steelers went 6-10 with Tommy Maddox at quarterback in 2003.
``There were a lot of factors that year we went passing crazy _ our defense was struggling at the time,'' Ward said. ``I remember we threw the ball like 40 times up in that snowy game (against the New York Jets) and most people were like, `Wow, what are they doing?' But we're always going to be a run-oriented team.''
To Ward, Arians is attempting to give the Steelers more options that will allow them to become more of a ball control team _ one that occasionally throws for first downs on first and second down, not just on third down.
``Bruce Arians loves to run the ball, and we're going to stick to the run, but we're going to do it different ways,'' Ward said. ``We're going to be more balanced. It's going to be hard for a lot of defensive coordinators to key on us because we're coming out with four wides, but we're running the ball out of four wides. We're going to get some good yardage by spreading the field out and opening up holes for our running backs.''
The Steelers believe their offense will begin to resemble Arian's vision once Parker plays. An irritated knee caused Parker to miss two weeks of training camp, and he was limited to four yards on four carries in his first game action Saturday against Washington.
``Are we going to pass 50 times a game? No, but we're going to be more ball control and we're still going to take our shots down the field,'' Ward said. ``That's something Bruce Arians always does as an offensive coordinator.''
Early in camp, Arians laughed when asked about the different looks he is trying to give the offense. He recalled how, as an Alabama assistant in 1982, he came up with what he thought was an inventive formation that employed four receivers in a single wing-like alignment.
Alabama coach Bear Bryant recalled that former Tennessee coach Robert Neyland had a similar formation nearly 60 years before, in the early 1920s.
``There's nothing new,'' Arians said. ``It's all recyclable.''