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MIRZA ZUKIC: Roethlisberger can't do it all by his lonesome

by and on September 15, 2013 2:00 AM

As far as I’m concerned, Ben Roethlisberger is near the bottom of the list of those to blame for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ineffective play on offense so far, in the preseason and in last week’s downright embarrassing loss to the Titans.

While it’s true the Steelers’ veteran quarterback didn’t light up Heinz Field last week until it was too late to rally from a two-touchdown deficit, he also can’t be expected to do it all by himself.

I won’t deny the fact that I was among those who believed that as long as Big Ben was healthy and on the field with the first-team offense, the Steelers had a chance to win every game. I genuinely believed that.

He’s big. He’s just as strong as many of the linemen he goes up against, and he finds ways to make winning plays.

I’m starting to change my mind about that. Roethlisberger needs help, and he needs lots of it. He’s fighting the war on terror with a slingshot.

But that doesn’t mean the Steelers need to have the best or most prolific offense in the NFL. Far from it.

Roethlisberger simply needs an effective offense that won’t depend on him to always provide a spark.

Take last week for example.

The Steelers’ running game was so ineffective, and their lack of a deep-play receiver so glaring, that the Titans didn’t have much to fear. They could pin their ears back and worry about one thing: getting to Roethlisberger.

That’s what they did, getting five sacks and, at times, even lining up with no defenders deeper than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Call me crazy, but the Steelers only need be average in other aspects of the offense — running the ball, blocking, third-down conversions, red-zone efficiency — to allow Roethlisberger to be great.

While it would be nice, the Steelers don’t need to lead the NFL in rushing. Heck, they don’t even need a 100-yard rusher every week.

But they need more than 32 yards on 15 carries as they got last week if for no other reason than to keep defenses guessing. If you’re able to run the ball even semi-successfully, then hit a couple long passes, it “stretches” the defense, as coaches like to say, and leaves defenses guessing what’s coming next.

But when you run for 32 yards and fall behind by 14 points, it’s pretty easy for the defenses to guess the air attack is coming, and even Roethlisberger is going to look human against eight defenders in coverage.

Not only that, but if the offense is efficient, getting first downs and moving the ball, it obviously keeps the other team’s offense off the field and limits the chances to fall behind.

“I think you have to be efficient running the ball,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said this week.

“I was coaching the Arizona team when we probably didn’t go over 100 yards maybe once or twice, if that. But we stayed on the field, we ran a bunch of plays and we scored a bunch of points. So, you just have to be able to run efficiently, meaning that in situations where you have to run, you’re able to run.”

The Steelers should take a page from the Titans’ playbook from last week.

One particular scoring drive late in the first half stood out in my mind.

Despite only covering 49 yards on their first touchdown drive of the day, the Titans ran 12 plays and took nearly 7 minutes off the clock.

It was old-school football, if there ever was, with a bunch of 3-, 4-, 5-yard runs that weren’t flashy.

But the Titans kept the chains moving and kept the Steelers’ offense off the field.

“Also, when you are handing it off and you don’t have minus plays and you’re not putting yourself behind the chains,” Haley said, “you’re staying on schedule, so to speak. We just have to be more efficient.

“Again, I don’t care if we throw it 45 times and run it 10 and win, or vice versa. I think that they both have a positive effective, provided that you’re efficient.”


Mirza Zukic is in his third season covering the Steelers for The Indiana Gazette. Email: Twitter: MirzaZuka.

Mirza Zukic is a sports writer that primarily covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and is the Gazette's track and field beat writer.

Teri Enciso is a photographer for The Indiana Gazette.
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