Steelers Dink and Dunk To Steamroll Jets

The general idea about stopping the Steelers' offense, at least from those relegated to watching the games from afar, is a simple one: stop the run and stop the deep pass and you should be set. Keep Ben Roethlisberger away from Mike Wallace, keep the Steelers bottled up in the run game, and you should have a chance.

For the most part, the Jets did just that on Sunday. Pittsburgh's running backs were completely ineffective. Jonathan Dwyer needed 12 carries to get 28 yards; Isaac Redman needed the same number for 25 yards. The Jets defense held Pittsburgh to just a 34.5 percent success rate on runs.

The Steelers did hit on one notable deep ball -- an incredible catch by Mike Wallace for a 37-yard touchdown. But Roethlisberger's Steelers only attempted four other deep passes, resulting in two completions for 43 yards. One other deep attempt saw an intentional grounding penalty. This is an outcome, I would think, most defensive coordinators would walk away from with satisfaction.

But Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan's defense left Heinz Field drubbed for 27 points by the Steelers offense. Pittsburgh whittled down the Jets with an array of successful short passes. Observe:





Roethlisberger went 22-for-26 with just six negative plays by EPA on these short passes (thrown less than 15 yards down the field), for 15.9 EPA overall and 0.61 per play. All but one completion yielded at least five yards (the exception a one-yard touchdown) for 228 total yards, an 8.8 average.

Dominating the short passing game is an excellent sign for both Roethlisberger and new Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, noted for his focus on short passes:

[Roethlisberger] worked hard in training camp on the ground game and the short passing game and tossed in some deep passes in the final two preseason games. How it works now as the season starts remains the question.

This would be a major change from what we've seen from Roethlisberger recently. Since 2007, he's been among the top-10 in deep passing attempt rate, and thrice he's been in the top five. This year, he's down to 13th through two games, and if Sunday's game is any indication -- just 16.2 percent of attempts beyond 15 yards -- that rate could keep falling.


"We had a couple of good long drives," Roethlisberger said. "I feel that taking the short pass can be a weapon for us. We need to get our playmakers the ball. On that (fourth-quarter) drive we didn't have any big, deep plays. It was all crossing routes, out routes and things like that."

Roethlisberger has been sacked 222 times since 2007, more than any other quarterback. The poundings have led to a laundry list of injuries, some serious, some nagging, that have kept him at less than 100 percent for long stretches.

Haley's system is designed to address that, and Sunday was an example of the sort of efficiency and clock consumption that could keep Roethlisberger upright more often and keep the Steelers' defense fresh.

After a difficult night in Roethlisberger's first go-round with the new offense last Sunday night against Denver, Haley's designs shown through brilliantly this week. The Steelers have the weapons to keep this going -- Antonio Brown and Heath Miller on short routes with Mike Wallace a perennial check downfield.  And, as Sunday's game showed, Ben Roethlisberger is more than up to the task of executing it to near-perfection.

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