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06-26-2010, 01:16 AM

Pittsburgh Steelers: 10 Ways To Help Compensate Big Ben's Absence
by Chris G. Correspondent Written on June 23, 2010 Like (2)
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Start Pouncey
As one of the most sacked quarterbacks year in and out, Roethlisberger brings much of this on himself by holding onto the ball too long looking to make a big play. He can get away with it because there is no other quarterback in the league who is as good at throwing the ball after contact with a defender.
Considering this, the Steelers offensive line still needs to be upgraded, both for pass protection and run blocking.
Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh’s first round selection, is a highly touted center from Florida who is expected to develop into an excellent starter. That development will have to start this year.
Arguably the Steelers two weakest spots on the line are center and right guard; two areas where Pouncey will compete to start.
Given the responsibilities of making calls at the line, the Steelers coaching staff believes that Pouncey will be better served to start out at right guard, where there is less pressure.
Pouncey’s presence will cause an instant improvement on the line.
With his size and physical style of play, Pouncey should be able to hold his own in one-on-one match-ups. He has a high football IQ so he should also be able to step in and understand the blocking schemes.
The upgraded line should provide Leftwich with more time to throw without scrambling as well as open holes for the ground game.

Commit to the Run
There will be no player or coach this season under more scrutiny than offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
It is a well-known fact that Pittsburgh wants to re-establish the running game, which doesn’t necessarily match with Arians’ philosophy.
Without Roethlisberger, Arians does not have much of a choice. It is essential that the Steelers not only re-establish their ground game, but commit to the run during the season, even if it is not successful at first.
On too many occasions last season, after early failures while trying to run the ball, Arians abandoned it in favor of having Roethlisberger sling the ball all over the field.
This luxury will not be there this season. While a good quarterback, Leftwich is not a player who should be throwing the ball 30 times over the course of a game.
Instead, the Steelers need to go to the throwback style of Bill Cowher, where the team can effectively run the ball 30-40 times over the course of the game.
The Steelers have a young, star in the making running back with Rashard Mendenhall and have some young depth behind him in Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, as well as veteran Mewelde Moore.
A commitment to the run would have a two-fold impact for the Steelers. First, it alleviates the pressure on Leftwich to be the sole playmaker on offense. More importantly, an effective ground game would give the attacking Steelers defense time to rest so they can maintain their high level of play for a full four quarters, something that they were not able to achieve last season.

06-26-2010, 01:16 AM
Unpredictable Play-Calling
All too often last season, the Steelers offense would come out onto the field and even the fans watching from the stands or at home would be able to call “run” or “pass.”
Often times it was easy to pick out a screen or the direction that the Steelers were running as well. Then, of course, were the empty backfield sets in which Pittsburgh didn’t even make the defense consider the run.
Arians will have to diversify his play-calling this season if the Steelers are to be successful.
Leftwich cannot make all of the throws that Roethlisberger can and thus the offense will need to mix it up to keep the defense on its heels.
A variety of play calls would also allow the team to find holes and the defense that Leftwich could then exploit. Pittsburgh cannot achieve this by calling six passes in a row or running the ball up the middle on every first and ten.

Develop a Short Passing Game
Pittsburgh fans have been demanding a short passing game for a couple of years now.
The Steelers have an issue with calling plays that have long developing pass patterns and as a result, have gotten their quarterback sacked way too many times.
Often times, Roethlisberger was able to escape the rush to make a play down-field, but he is one of the best at scrambling.
Leftwich is not so nimble footed, but of greater concern, he has a long windup.
If a lot of long developing routes are called, the defenders will feast on Leftwich and the time that it takes him to get rid of the ball.
Arians must design and call plays that involve short patterns.
This should not be much of an issue given the weapons that the Steelers have. Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El are two veterans who run short routes very well. Third round draft selection Emmanuel Sanders is another receiver who excels in short patterns.
Pittsburgh also has Mendenhall who could be used as an outlet as well as Heath Miller, who has developed into one of the best tight ends in the league.
Given these resources, Pittsburgh should have no problem instituting a short passing game for the early part of the season.

Quick Release
A short passing game will help Pittsburgh’s offense from the pressure from an opposing defense, but it will take more than receivers running short patterns.
Leftwich needs to get the ball out quickly. One of the reasons he is a backup in the league is because of his slow release time.
It will be vital that Leftwich makes quick decisions to get the ball out otherwise he will be picking himself off the ground.
In his past playing experience with the Steelers, Leftwich has shown the ability to make quick decisions, but those were made in spot starts. He will have to demonstrate the ability to get rid of the ball quickly on a weekly basis.

Play Action Pass
If the Steelers are able to establish a ground attack and mix things up on offense, they will be able to catch a defense and connect on big plays off the play action pass.
Roethlisberger is at his best when throwing off the play action and they did not do this nearly enough last season.
Pittsburgh should develop this early so it can be ready for Roethlisberger’s return, but also because Leftwich has a strong arm and has a great deep threat in Mike Wallace.
Wallace showcased his speed and play-making abilities last season, leading the NFL in yards per reception at 19.4.
Without Roethlisberger there to make plays, Pittsburgh will need to find ways to make big plays and connecting with Wallace deep is the most dangerous option they have.
The instant that the defensive back has a bit of doubt off the play action, Wallace can blow by him allowing Leftwich to use his big arm to connect for a big play.

The Steelers brought back a unique weapon when they signed Randle El.
More than just a receiver, Randle El is the best trick player in the league.
While Whisenhunt, who used Randle El extremely well, is gone, Arians should be able to showcase his talent as well.
Trick plays are not something a team can depend on and they are not plays that can be run very often. However, when the offense needs a spark, Randle El is available for a trick pass.
The former college quarterback has thrown 25 passes while in Pittsburgh and Washington, completing 20 of them for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
That is an impressive 80 percent completion percentage and an average gain of 14.05 yards per completion.
In addition to Randle El’s passing abilities, he is also an accomplished runner in reverse plays, though the Steelers may look towards a blazing fast Wallace for these plays.

Incorporate Dixon
Much to the dismay of many fans, Dennis Dixon is not going to get a realistic chance to start this season, but this does not mean that he should not be seen on the field.
Dixon displayed some success while playing against a vaunting Ravens defense last season in which he nearly led the Steelers to a win before throwing a game costing interception in overtime.
Entering his third year, Dixon should feel comfortable with the offense and the coaching staff should consider using him periodically throughout the game.
Dixon is a playmaker both with his arm and his legs, as he showcased last season.
Arians can have specially designed plays to allow Dixon to roam outside of the pocket where he is at his best.
At this point, Dixon would have a pass or run option. He has already shown he can make the tough pass, albeit not consistently and he is one of the best runners on the team.
Getting Dixon several snaps per game would add another dimension for the Steelers offense that opposing defenses must prepare for. Because of his electric play-making abilities, Dixon could be counted on for several positive plays per game.

Dominant Defense
If the Steelers are going to throwback their offense a little bit this season, returning to more of a running attack, you can count on a return to a dominating defense.
A team cannot lose if the other team cannot score.
While it is too much to ask for to shut out the opposition over the first four games, if Pittsburgh’s defense can return to its 2008 form, it will not matter who the quarterback is because they will only need two touchdowns from the offense for a win.
A better running game will allow the defense to stay rested throughout the game, particularly for the fourth quarter. This is particularly important as a majority of the defensive starters are 30 or older.
It is also important so the defense can stay attacking throughout the game.
LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison form one of the best pass rushing duos and the return of Troy Polamalu gives the Steelers the best defensive playmaker in the league.
The return of Aaron Smith from injury will also be key for the run defense. Pittsburgh’s defensive line is one of the best units in the NFL and Smith will be welcomed back by fellow linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel.
Bryant McFadden returning to the secondary along with Polamalu will make the Steelers a tough unit to pass against. Ryan Clark is at his best with Polamalu in the lineup and Ike Taylor has the ability to take away one half of the field.
The defense will also be playing with a chip on their shoulders after struggling for much of last season, costing the team several potential wins.
Starting fresh with more depth will enable the defense to shut down their opponents and thus take pressure off of the offense to score 30 points or more.

Only Four Games, Not Six

From an organizational standpoint, it is vital that the Steelers do what they can to work with Roethlisberger to ensure that his suspension is only four games and not six.

Four games without your franchise quarterback is a large enough challenge to overcome, but an additional two games would make that challenge even greater.

A key factor in a four game suspension is that Pittsburgh has its bye in week five. This would give Roethlisberger one week to prepare with the team before a potential return to the field at Heinz Field against Cleveland.

If the suspension is six games, Roethlisberger will not have the bye week to prepare for his return and would have to go to a hostile environment to compete against the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in a prime-time game.

The sooner Roethlisberger is back, the better it will be for the organization so they can get back to a sense of normalcy as well has have their quarterback back who can give them the best opportunity to win each week.