Offense on a steady climb

Ben Roethlisberger opted for a fact-finding mission rather than a shopping spree once Thanksgiving night had faded into Black Friday.

"On the plane home from Baltimore, when I knew Fernando (Velasco) was out, I checked with the other linemen, asked them what they thought about Cody (Wallace)," Roethlisberger said. "Every single person said the same thing, that he's a really smart player, there will be no issue, he'll be good to go. So when I talked to him I got that same confidence, that he'll be ready to rock with it."

Wallace is poised to make his first NFL start on Sunday against Miami. He'll do so at center for the Steelers, the third different player to start a game there in 2013.

But unlike Velasco, who was brought aboard to replace Maurkice Pouncey at center after a season-ending injury in the regular season opener, Wallace with do so with months rather than days of exposure to the offense under his belt. Wallace, a fourth-year pro from Texas A&M, was signed on Sept. 1.

Velasco, also in his fourth NFL campaign, didn't arrive until Sept. 9, the day after the Steelers lost Pouncey to a torn ACL during a 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

"He's been behind Maurkice, he's been behind Fernando, also," guard Ramon Foster said of Wallace. "He knows the system, that's the most important thing. You don't have a new guy coming in. You have a guy who knows the system and the plays. That's the only thing we're worried about, but he's good.

"There's expectation, definitely. He's worked his butt off whether he's been doing scout team and everything like that. He knows what's in front of him. I respect his work ethic. I'm just ready to see him go on Sunday."

There also are health issues at running back and along the offensive line at spots other than canter.

Le'Veon Bell sustained a concussion against the Ravens and currently is subject to the concussion protocol, while right guard Dave DeCastro (sprained left foot), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (sprained right knee), and backup tackle/tight end Mike Adams (sprained left ankle) opened preparations for Miami in various states of disrepair.

The Steelers' initial challenge this week is to cobble together an offensive line capable of allowing the unit to pick up where it left off in the 22-20 loss on Thanksgiving night at Baltimore, because if successful there they can build upon some areas of success against the Ravens.

* Converting 54 percent of their third downs against a Ravens defense that had been allowing opponents a success rate of 31.1 percent.

  • Scoring three touchdowns against a Ravens defense that had allowed 11 in the 10 games since a season opening loss at Denver.
  • Essentially two rushing touchdowns from Bell against a Ravens defense that had allowed one rushing TD all season.
  • Three touchdowns in three red-zone penetrations (100 percent) against a Ravens defense that had been allowing touchdowns at a 30 percent clip from that area of the field.
  • No turnovers committed and no sacks allowed against a Ravens defense that came in with a streak of at least two sacks in 19 consecutive games.
  • An average of 4.0 yards per carry on 18 rushing attempts.

In respect to all of the above, the offense looked and functioned in Baltimore as the Steelers have intended it to function all along, perhaps more so than at any time this season.

"I'd like to think so," Roethlisberger said. "I thought it was pretty good. Obviously, we want to do all of it a little better. But I thought we ran the ball, we threw the ball, guys up front protected and to me that's the biggest thing. When they protect up front I feel like we can do a lot of things."

Emmanuel Sanders: "We were real close. We were extremely close."

Ben Roethlisberger: "Well, we'll see how much no-huddle we get into. I think the second half (in Baltimore) we kind of had a little sense of urgency moving the ball down the field. I thought we were balanced pretty well the second half running and passing. So, hopefully, (Bell) is ready to go and everyone's healthy receiver-wise so we can keep going with that."

Jerricho Cotchery: "We've been growing a lot. The approach has been good on offense. (Offensive coordinator) Todd Haley shows us where we need to be and how to get there. We've been working extremely hard and we've been getting a lot of growth. It's been carrying over. We feel really good about our progression as an offense. We have to keep scoring points. We have to continue to take care of the ball, not make mistakes. We have to get better in the run game. That includes receivers blocking and all of those things. That's an area we definitely need to get better in down the stretch."

Cody Wallace: "Hopefully, they don't have to cut anything back just for me."

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