Harris: Steelers pick a strange time for run

| Monday, Nov. 23, 2009

KANSAS CITY — The defending Super Bowl champions are waging an internal war on offense.

On the one hand, the Steelers now fancy themselves as a passing team that ranked No. 8 in the NFL at better than 253 yards per game entering Sunday's disaster against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Before leaving with a concussion-type injury, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 398 yards and three touchdowns.

On the other hand, the Steelers remain an enigma on offense because they appear to be torn between becoming a dominant passing team while attempting to remain true to their successful history as a power-running team.

It was during crunch time of yesterday's shocking 27-24 overtime loss to the Chiefs that the Steelers picked a strange time to return to their offensive roots.

A third-down sweep by running back Mewelde Moore on the Steelers' only possession in overtime — one play after Rashard Mendenhall rushed for an 8-yard gain — resulted in a three-yard loss against the league's No. 27-ranked rushing defense.

Not wanting to gamble on fourth-and-5 from the Kansas City 38 following Moore's unsuccessful run, the Steelers punted, playing the percentages and turning the game over to their defense.

It seemed like a smart move — considering the Steelers' defense had gone 12 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown until the third quarter of yesterday's game.

Ultimately, it backfired for coach Mike Tomlin.

If Roethlisberger described his performance in last week's loss to Cincinnati as him having a "bad day," Tomlin took having a "bad day" to a whole new level yesterday.

"I take responsibility for that performance," Tomlin said after Kansas City drove downfield and kicked the winning field goal. "I have to have this team better prepared to play ... We tried to get a perimeter run to get down inside that (field-goal) range, and we got dropped for a loss."

It wasn't so much that the Steelers ran the ball on third-and-2 when they've made a habit this season of passing the ball all over the lot, particularly on traditional running downs.

Simply put, giving the ball to Moore in that situation was a strange call by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

Although Moore is the team's surest-handed running back, he ranks third behind Mendenhall and Willie Parker in terms of getting outside and turning the corner.

Throwing the ball to Moore, who leads Steelers running backs in receptions this season, would have been a higher-percentage call.

"Whatever B.A. (Arians) calls, we have to execute the play," said Hines Ward, who led the Steelers with 10 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown. "We can second-guess ourselves, but we're not going to point fingers. Third-and-3, third-and-2, I like our chances with our running backs.

"We called a toss sweep. With the crowd noise, you want to make sure you get everybody out and blocking. I cracked down on the end. Tone (Santonio Holmes) got the linebacker. Usually, when Tone and I got that, we usually get that play. That was a crucial play."

I asked right tackle Willie Colon if the offense is struggling to find the proper mix between the pass and the run.

"It's a lot more complicated than that," Colon said. "Right now, we've just got to find a rhythm, and we've got to execute better."

The Steelers ran 31 times for 114 yards and passed 44 times for 401 yards. More than 500 yards of total offense still wasn't enough to beat one of the league's weakest teams.

In back-to-back losses against Kansas City and Cincinnati, the Steelers have attempted 84 passes compared with only 49 running plays.

That's why it was so shocking to see the Steelers run Moore on a sweep on their biggest offensive play of the game.

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