It may seem like an insignificant play as it was only the 3rd play on offense, but the the 3rd and 1 play call Thursday night against Cleveland revealed the Steelers true identity on offense once and for all. Sure this is not a mind blowing revelation to anyone who has watched every Steelers game this season, but Thursday night the true identity could be seen by even the casual Steelers fan. On the first 2 plays on offense, running back Rashard Mendenhall ran off the right side for a total of 9 yards. This set up a 3rd and 1 in which the Steelers put quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun with Mendenhall off to the left side. Roethlisberger was sacked for 9 yards and the Steelers instantly lost the first quarter field position battle.
While I understand that most teams come into a game with 10 or so scripted plays, Arians should of left the script on the plane when it was evident that the weather would likely play a significant role in the game. The Steelers had shown glimpses of being able to run the ball effectively over the past few weeks with Mendenhall and it only seemed fitting they should try to run at will on the lowly ranked Browns rush defense. Mendenhall carried the ball 4 times during the Steelers first two 3 and out possessions for 16 yards, but only carried the ball 12 more times the rest of the night.
Why offensive coordinator Bruce Arians insisted on trying to throw the ball on a blistering cold night with one banged up Hines Ward in the lineup is a mystery. It may end up being a mystery that cost Arians his job in the offseason. The offensive line, especially the right side, is more effective in run blocking versus pass blocking. Asking them to pass block 32 times, on a freezing night that certainly was perfect for running and keeping the clock moving was a recipe for what happened. Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan probably could not believe his eyes. Ryan mixed up his pass defense looks to show looks that the Steelers were not ready for, he was gambling that the Steelers would not run the ball 30 times on him and his gamble payed off.
With 3 games left in the season, Arians needs to take advantage of what the Steelers do best right now on offense and that is running the ball with Mendenhall. Not only will it help in keeping the offense out on the field, it will keep the defense off of the field more. When passing, giving more run looks and using play action will give Roethlisberger more time to hold the ball as he likes to do. Passing out of a passing formation is an identity that will only end up in more losses and an injured quarterback.