The long and short of it

It's not what opposing defenses have figured out, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner maintained, it's what the Steelers' offense has seemingly forgotten of late.

"If you're gonna throw the football, you gotta catch the football," Fichtner observed prior to practice today.

Dropped passes have been a problem, particularly against Baltimore on Dec. 2 and Washington on Dec. 7 and to a lesser extent last Sunday night against Buffalo.

The Steelers beat the Ravens, 19-14, but scored less than 20 points for the first time after averaging 29.9 points through their first 10 games.

Since then they've fallen to Washington, 23-17, and Buffalo, 26-15.

"We talk about running the ball and efficient runs are 4-plus (yards)," Fichtner continued. "If we're gonna throw short and have the opportunity to run long, the short aspect of that has to be caught for 4 and whatever we get after that is bonus. That's just kinda keeping you on schedule.

"I wouldn't say (defenses have) caught onto it; it's just a matter of we gotta make our plays."

That includes becoming more efficient throwing the ball down the field than the Steelers have been, particularly during their just-completed stretch of three games in 12 days.

"Whatever you missed in that little three-week time of walk-through, playing, not playing, games being moved, I think back to just repetition of throwing and catching for our guys, that's not an excuse but if there would have been one area you would have backed off of it would have been potentially throwing the ball down (the field), deep balls," Fichtner said.

That, too, is being addressed in practice in advance of Monday night's visit to Cincinnati.

"Having this week where we actually get back to a semblance of having a real week, we worked on that yesterday, we'll continue today," Fichtner said. "We get a couple more good days of practice (before the Bengals game) so it'll be an area of emphasis.

"We'll throw deep balls today. We'll do it in individual (periods) and there won't be a defender on them and we won't tangle anyone's legs up and be falling down 30 yards down the field. But it does give you that sense of timing and rhythm again and, potentially, just the idea of seeing the throws and catch and the adjustment by a receiver.

"We know we have to get back to that. We know that in any one given year since I've been here the opportunity to throw the ball past the sticks in possession downs is critical to us. And being able to take shots on first and second down has to be completed at a greater rate."

The goal is more consistency in whatever the Steelers choose to do offensively.

"We'd love to be more balanced," Fichtner said. "We'd love to be able to run it when we want to run it, throw it when we want to throw it and execute in the possession downs and red zones and be consistent. I think what gets disappointing is two weeks ago we were inconsistent in the red zone, last week we were consistent in the red zone; we just weren't down there enough. Three weeks ago we were really great on third down and then last week we weren't good on third down.

"We don't, probably, have to be the best at any one of those but we can't be the worst once and then the best the next day. Consistency has to start coming through. I would bet if we went back even early in the season it wasn't always like that either, just consistent in every facet of the game. But it felt like you were more medium than you were hot and cold.

"What's missing right now is just maybe a little more consistently catching the football."

The Steelers prepare for the Week 15 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals