In Antonio Brown, the Steelers have the NFL's leading receiver. In Le'Veon Bell, they have the league's No. 2 running back and the player who's also No. 2 in yards from scrimmage. In Ben Roethlisberger, they have a quarterback whose 103.0 passer rating is No. 4 in the NFL.
In Dallas, they used to refer to Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, and Troy Aikman as the "triplets," and during his news conference today Coach Mike Tomlin referred to the Steelers' trio as the "big three." But Tomlin also made it clear that he understands the Steelers wouldn't be where they are – 8-5 and in contention for both the AFC North Division title or a Wild Card spot in the playoffs – without significant contributions from other offensive players.
"We talked briefly after the game about the contributions of the 'big three,' if you will – Ben and Le'Veon and Antonio," said Tomlin. "But we also got consistent contributions from others. When called upon, they delivered plays. That's one of the most critical ingredients of the balance that allows us to be successful offensively."
And when the Steelers offense is operating effectively, it's the major ingredient in the formula that allows this particular team to win, a formula on display once again last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium during a 42-21 victory over the Bengals..
"The formula was really what we look for," said Tomlin about last Sunday's game. "We had a balanced offense. We were able to run it. We were able to throw it. We maintained possession of the football. We didn't turn the football over, and that's the critical ingredient for us to be successful."
On the same afternoon when Bell scored three touchdowns and joined Walter Payton as the only NFL running backs to post three straight games of 200-plus yards from scrimmage, when Brown caught nine passes for 117 yards, when Roethlisberger passed for 350 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 118.5, Tomlin maintained the Steelers got significant contributions from some others as well.
"Whether it's Markus Wheaton or Martavis Bryant or Heath Miller or Lance Moore or others – when called upon they delivered significant plays, plays that were able to sustain drives, extend drives," said Tomlin. "They were plays that were able to allow us to win situational football, because those 'big three' guys get a lot of attention in situational football, whether it's third down or red zone or what have you."
Wheaton caught two passes, one of which went for 16 yards to convert a third-and-2 on a first half possession that ended with a touchdown, and a 15-yarder on a second-and-1 on a drive that resulted in a field goal at the end of the half to close the Steelers' deficit to 14-10 at the time.
Moore caught one pass for 29 yards, and it came on the play following Wheaton's catch that converted the aforementioned third-and-2.
Among Bryant's four catches were one for 12 yards that converted a third-and-2 on a drive in the third quarter that ended with a Bell touchdown reception, and another covering 96 yards that gave the Steelers a 35-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
Miller official reception total was one catch for 1 yard – the Steelers first touchdown of the day – and he also caught the two-point conversion pass that gave the Steelers a 28-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
And Tomlin also recognized the performance of an offensive line that allowed no sacks and helped Bell average 7.1 yards per carry.
"Those guys, physically and mentally, are in the primes of their careers," said Tomlin about his offensive linemen. "A lot of three, four, five-year guys who have grown and grown up together. We expect those guys to be key components of our attack offensively, and key components of our football team in terms of being reasons why we're successful. They embrace that. Guys like Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro are some of the best at what they do, and we expect good, consistent, above the line performance from them and that group."
STOPPING THE FAKE PUNT
The Bengals attempted a fake punt midway through the first quarter. The snap went to up-back Cedric Peerman, who ended up fumbling the ball forward before he got past the first-down marker. When Nico Johnson recovered for the Bengals, by rule, the ball went back to the spot of the fumble. As a result, the Steelers took over at their own 40-yard line.
"Our ability to stop the fake punt in the early stages was a very big play in the game," said Tomlin. "The guys did a nice job. Darrius Heyward-Bey in particular, a receiver who's on the punt return team, doing defender-like things in what he's keying and where he's fitting and the way he's tackling. He and Terrence Garvin stopped that play."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Jarvis Jones (wrist) came back and participated with no adverse effects. We'll watch him as the week unfolds, but we feel really good about him moving forward from a health standpoint. Steve McLendon (shoulder), same thing, very positive in terms of the initial response to his participation, and we don't anticipate any negativity as we move forward. James Harrison (knee), his practice participation will be our guide this week. Ike Taylor (shoulder and forearm), the same thing as James. Marcus Gilbert, who has missed the last two opportunities with his ankle injury, will get an opportunity to participate and we'll watch his movement, his ability to anchor and let that be our guide. If he's to play at right tackle, he's going to have a big task in slowing down defensive end Kroy Biermann, who's a dynamic, dynamic player."