Sep 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Buccaneers won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Steelers odd 3rd and 5 call against the Buccaneers has become quite the hot topic this week. Whether you think Tomlin erred on the play call, Ben erred on the read, or Toddy Haley is still to blame for it, there’s no doubting that the fallout from that play lead to a big ball of mess that have been haunting the Steelers for much longer than just last Sunday.
On a 3rd and 5, a play was called into a huddle. There were under two minutes in the game. Tampa Bay was out of timeouts. A first down ices the game. The Steelers went up to the line, where Ben took the snap and handed off to Le’Veon Bell where he lost two yards as the result in the play. The Steelers were forced to punt, and it went down hill from there. Steeler Nation later learned that it was Tomlin not Haley who made the call, and that the specific call was a read run-pass option. That means when Ben looks over the defense, it’s his call on whether the offense runs or passes the ball. The play was successful on a couple occasions earlier in the game – on both the run and pass options. This time, it was a poorly executed play, and the Steelers suffered for it.
Ben was in the gun with Bell lined up next to him. There were only five linemen on the field, and with that line struggling during the day you have to wonder why call such a play. Trips high and Brown low. Certainly someone would get open quickly, and if you watch the film you can see that Heath Miller gets position on his nickel back within four yards of the LOS. There was an easy seem between the back and the lone safety help up top to get that pass in. Instead Beachum, DeCastro and Wallace mis-block. Beachum misses, DeCastro gets pushed back 2 yards (which initially blows up the play) and Wallace allows his initial target bounce off and he moves to look for a LB. Pouncey (as I’m sure this is designed) moves immediately up to the LB level leaving a gaping hole for defenders to swarm into. On the play where Bell ran into the secondary with this same formation/play call, Pouncey at least hit the guy in front of him before moving up field. It was man to man blocking and in no way zone. The play blew up in their faces.
Should end there, right? But, I disagree. Here’s where I have a problem and what it all boils down to…
On a 3rd and 5 with under two minutes to go, needing only a first down to ice the game, you put the ball in your best player’s hands. On the Steelers offense that would be one of two people: Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown. Trouble is you need Ben in order to THROW it to Brown. It’s not like the Steelers needed a yard or two or even three. They needed five. Run success here is very low in these situations. Certainly a defense will be guessing which way you go – pass or run. But in order for that guess work to pay dividends on your behalf is to put the personnel on the team that makes them ponder about you throwing the ball. It was as if the Bucs were playing for the run as soon as they lined up.
You pay a man $100 million to make plays, and you take the ball out of his hands. You could see from Fox’s tv cast that Ben shook his head as Tomlin and Haley stood next to each other calling the play in. He wasn’t happy about it. There should never have been an option. It should have been pass all the way. Play action. A roll-out. A slant to Lance Moore (gasp!) Anything that would freeze those damn linebackers that were at the LOS within three steps of Bell getting the handoff. So what if the clock stops if the pass falls incomplete? At least the down was played to win the game.
You place the trust and faith in your franchise quarterback. Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Luck – do you think those HC’s and OC’s would call a run play? This is just as unsettling as the loss. Give them a formation and play they haven’t seen yet to make’m guess a bit more. Then, you put the ball in your best player’s hands. Period.