The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Sunday’s game preparing to face one of the worst run defenses in the NFL in the Tennessee Titans, so of course they threw the ball 49 times, and planned a pass-heavy attack. Of course, the Titans also rank poorly in passing defense as well.
But according to Mike Tomlin, what they saw that they could do in the passing game, particularly the short passing game, was more tempting offensively than the opportunity to carry the ball, even though they entered the week as one of truly most balanced offenses in the league.
Sunday’s performance in which they threw the ball nearly twice as often as they ran the ball threw a bit of a wrench in that equilibrium, but that’s okay. While they strive to have a balanced attack, balance in their sense means more about running when you want to run and throwing when you want to throw. And in Tennessee, they wanted to throw.
“That was the plan for us in that particular venue”, Tomlin said earlier today in his pre-game press conference about the pass-heavy attacking strategy. “We wanted to possess the ball. There are many ways you can possess the ball. Short passes, high completion percentages allow you to do that along with running it”.
The Steelers opened the game with a 16-play drive that featured 11 pass attempts, Ben Roethlisberger going 9-for-11 for 84 yards and a touchdown. Their second, 13-play drive, featured seven rushing attempts. On their final meaningful possession, another 16-play drive while nursing a three-point lead, Roethlisberger attempted 13 passes despite trying to run out the clock, but they were nearly all short pass attempts.
“We want to have a diverse attack”, Tomlin said. “We want to be well balanced. We want to be thoughtfully non-rhythmic, all things that we talk openly about consistently, and we have an opportunity to live it out with planning and the execution of planning like last week”.
What will the plan be against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday? They have a significantly better defense do the Titans, although defensively they are allowing 4.6 yards per attempt—like the Steelers, their numbers were skewed by an outlier long Miles Sanders touchdown run. They have allowed seven explosive runs on the season, and four of those were by non-quarterbacks.
Outside of the games against the Browns (in the opener), the Chiefs (their only loss) and the Eagles (an unusual outlier), they have only allowed a single rushing attempt of 10 yards or more, and that was a 10-yard run by Antonio Gibson against Washington.
The good news is the Steelers have become an effective team in using jet sweeps and things of that nature. Roethlisberger isn’t going to have any 20-yard scrambles, but perhaps Ray-Ray McCloud can break one for a good gain again, or Diontae Johnson, or Chase Claypool.