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Pondering the possibilities

The Steelers aren't sweating quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's absence from practice this week in preparation for Sunday's hosting of the Cincinnati Bengals.

"We'll prepare and continue to prepare as if Ben's playing," offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said today.

Roethlisberger is participating virtually while waiting to be activated from the Steelers' Reserve/COVID-19 list.

"I know from a mental standpoint he'll be ready to go," Fichtner said.

Roethlisberger has been particularly ready in the second halves of recent wins over the Ravens on Nov. 1 in Baltimore and last Sunday over the Cowboys in Dallas.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 10 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals

And especially effective when running the no-huddle offense from an empty set with a skill-position group that's included wide receivers Chase Claypool, Ray-Ray McCloud, Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, and tight end Eric Ebron.

"It's a highly-skilled group," Fichtner assessed. "Eric gives you some receiver-type ability from a coverage standpoint. I think you can dictate certain types of coverages that you might not get based on that type of group.

"It could eliminate certain protection-type issues or potentially create some isolations or in certain situations it might even create zone (coverage). It's a unique group, it's a pass group and it's a fun group when they're out there and they get a great opportunity to showcase their skills.

"Ben's done a nice job of keeping them all involved."

Roethlisberger has gone a combined 32-for-45 passing, for 353 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions in third and fourth quarters against the Ravens and Cowboys. The four-receiver grouping (Claypool, McCloud, Johnson and Smith-Schuster) and Ebron have been a critical component of comebacks from a 10-point halftime hole in Baltimore and a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in Dallas.

Those two rallies have Fichtner at least contemplating spreading the field in such a fashion earlier in games.

"Sometimes game circumstance dictates the flow of where you have to go," he said. "I'd like to be more balanced. We talked about it, we push for it but sometimes it doesn't work itself in that direction. You gotta find out exactly where it fits.

"I'm not opposed to doing it earlier."

Or with a different group of five at the skill positions.

Wide receiver James Washington was on the field for Roethlisberger's final series in the first half at Dallas. Trailing 13-0 with 3:46 left before the intermission, the Steelers went with three wide receivers, Ebron and running back James Conner.

Washington caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger that caped a nine-play, 76-yard drive in 2:36 that got the Steelers onto the scoreboard and back in the game.

Washington is viewed as capable of playing multiple roles in the four-wide receivers package with Ebron if needed.

"There's no doubt he can," Fichtner said. "Somebody has to be able to handle every position if someone goes down. That kinda fell to James because I had a lot of trust and still have a lot of trust that he'd be able to fit in if Ebron went down or if JuJu went down.

"Some weeks you'll see he could be more involved in that grouping."

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