Jeff Hartings Thinks Steelers Should Be “Pass First” With Big Ben


Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

"I don’t know how much we should be relying on the running game.  I look at Ben Roethlisberger as a John Elway type, put the ball in his hands, and let him win the game, … Now the problem with that is, do we have the receivers to make that happen?  You got to run the ball to some extent, we’re not going to be a run the ball first kind of team the rest of this season.  I think we should be a pass first team anyways with Ben as the quarterback.-Jeff Hartings on 93.7 The FAN"

If one has the time, do yourself a favor and go and listen to the entire interview between Jeff Hartings, Joe Starkey, and Miller and Mueller on 93.7 The FAN.  Pittsburgh’s former center not only discussed “Big Ben” on the show, but he also shares his thoughts on Pittsburgh’s offense under Todd Haley in general.

As far as the interview is concerned, I will say that I wholeheartedly agree with Hartings’ assessment that the Steelers’ coaching staff should put the ball in the Pro Bowl quarterback’s hands if they wish to enjoy more success on the offensive side of the ball.

While running a pass-heavy offense definitely has its disadvantages, one cannot debate that Pittsburgh’s stable of running backs is arguably the least talented in the entire league.

The quartet of Jonathan “Needs a Sports Bra” Dwyer, Le’Veon “Glass” Bell, Isaac “Two Yards and a Fumble” Redman, and the little-used Felix Jones would barely strike fear into some of the better teams in the Southeastern Conference at the moment.  15 carries for 32 yards is a joke against a team like the Tennessee Titans, and relying on that type of production is nothing short of wasteful.

Forcing a quarterback like Roethlisberger to hand the ball off to this group of below-average running backs behind a pathetic offensive line (without Maurkice Pouncey) as often as they have recently has been nothing short of an utter and complete waste.  The Steelers finished 26th last season in total rushing yards, 28th in total yards per carry, and it does not look like those numbers will improve with the way the offensive line has played during the preseason and against Tennessee.

Although naysayers will argue that “a pass-heavy offense will inevitably lead to more sacks,” to them I can only ask the following:

How can the offense move the football if too much of the game-plan is wasted on an ineffective ground game?

Asking even a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback like “Big Ben” to convert third-and-longs on a consistent basis is ridiculous, and Roethlisberger should not be forced to waste a chunk of his weekly game-plan on players who have proved on multiple occasions that they are incapable of kick-starting a team’s ground attack.

With such an ineffective foursome in their backfield, offensive coordinator Todd Haley would be much better served if he put the offense on “Big Ben’s” shoulders and let his quarterback distribute the ball to his play-making pass-catchers more often.

I am sure that Haley is just as aware as Roethlisberger that Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Markus Wheaton, and Derek Moye all have the type of speed to put pressure on opposing defenses.  While I do not believe that “Big Ben” needs to be taking “seven-step drops” and throwing “nine routes” on every drop-back, Haley should at least let his signal-caller those weapons to his advantage with quick passes in space to set up those longer routes when defenses try to press the speedy pass-catchers.

Furthermore, I believe that Wheaton, Moye, and the reliable Jerricho Cotchery must be utilized more often in the passing game until Heath Miller returns to the lineup.  Roethlisberger needs as many targets as possible in the passing game, and putting David Paulson and David Johnson in as often as they did last weekend did nothing to scare Tennessee’s pass-rushers or secondary when the Steelers went to the air.

Final Thoughts

I cannot comprehend why it is such a terrible chore for Haley to tailor his offense around the talent he has on his roster.  Any game plan in which a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback like Roethlisberger hands the ball off 15 times to the collective “dumpster fire” he has in his offensive backfield is nothing short of absurd.

While it would be nice to see the Steelers running the ball 20 times per game to put pressure on opposing defenses, they just do not have the type of personnel to succeed in that particular area at the moment.  Thus, Pittsburgh’s best chance to stay competitive this fall and in the future rests solely on giving Roethlisberger more chances to distribute the football through the air.

I just hope that Pittsburgh’s coaching staff turn to that particular strategy sooner as opposed to later.  Otherwise, the Steelers’ offense will continue to remain a stagnant mess.

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