Steelers 3rd & 1 Play-Call Late In First Half Deserves Criticism

In general, I don’t get too caught up in bashing individual play-calls that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense runs on a week-to-week basis. Sure, you could probably go through each and every game and circle 5 or 6 plays based on results and find faults or easily state what probably should have been called. With that disclaimer out of the way, it’s hard not to knock one particular play call that took place in the Steelers disgusting Sunday loss to the Miami Dolphins and I’m sure you already know which play that is by now.

With the Steelers trailing the Dolphins 9-8 with 3:07 left in the first half, their offense faced a 3rd and 1 at their own 46-yard line. Keep in mind that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was out of the game at this point and that his backup Landry Jones was operating his first real offensive series of the 2016 regular season. Instead of running the football, the play call wound up being a pass and Jones eventually threw off of his back foot to tight end David Johnson, who had leaked out of the backfield. The pass was not only incomplete; it was almost intercepted.

If you look at the play, Jones’ initial read was likely to Johnson out in the flat. When Jones sees that his initial read is covered, he quickly looks to the middle of the field where tight end Xavier Grimble appears to be open on a shallow cross. While it’s hard to know if a Dolphins defender was in the line of sight of Jones on his second read, the television angle makes it seem like he could have gotten rid of the football to Grimble for an easy first down and perhaps even more. Let’s wait and see what the end zone view shows us before really bashing Jones. To make matters even worse, it appears as though Jones had problems handling the snap from center Maurkice Pouncey.

With all that notated, it’s really curious as to why the Steelers didn’t just try to run the football on this play. Sure, the Dolphins had the box stacked expecting the run but the Steelers had their jumbo package on the field complete with three tight ends with Johnson lined up as a fullback. Keep in mind that running back Le’Veon Bell just had runs of 12, 8, and 6 yards to the right side on the previous plays to start that possession and that Jones had yet to attempt his first pass.

At worst, Bell gets stuffed for no gain, right? Even so, Bell deserved an opportunity to at least carry the football on that 3rd down and especially being as he hadn’t been stuffed on his previous 8 carries. Instead, I think offensive coordinator Todd Haley tried to get too cute with the play call and the Steelers had to punt. To make matters even worse, the Dolphins marched 71 yards down the field for their first touchdown of the game on the ensuing possession to close out the first half. Oh, they also got the football first in the second half as well and while Roethlisberger ultimately did return to the game, his first offensive snap didn’t take place until 9:01 left in the third quarter. By then, I bet that injured left knee of his was nice and stiff.

Sure, that one play-call isn’t the only reason why the Steelers lost to the Dolphins on Sunday, but it’s interesting to think about what may have transpired the rest of the first half, and even the game, had the Steelers given Bell the ball on that 3rd and 1 play. At worst, perhaps, they go into halftime down 9-8 with the hope they would get Roethlisberger back for the second half.

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