Tim Benz: Steelers should use QB sneak or better explain why they don't
After a Steelers loss fans often scream: “The offense is too predictable!”
After that same loss, though, you might also hear just as many screaming: “The offense is too complicated! They outthink themselves!”
This column is for Group B.
Any team that doesn't have a quarterback sneak in its playbook is genuinely outthinking itself.
As we all know by now, the Steelers don't have a quarterback sneak in their playbook. What no one has properly explained is: How come?
Many teams would've run a quarterback sneak on either of Pittsburgh's failed fourth-and-1 attempts during the club's playoff loss against Jacksonville on Sunday. The Steelers chose against doing so both times.
Instead, at Jacksonville's 39-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 12 minutes, 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Earlier in the game at the Jaguars' 21-yard line, the team mystifyingly elected a pitch wide to Le'Veon Bell. It lost 4 yards. Why pitch the ball backwards 5 or 6 yards in an attempt to go a few feet forward? It's counterintuitive.
So is involving dropping back, pass blocking, throwing, getting open and catching as opposed to falling forward 3 feet.
With a 6-foot-5 quarterback who rarely gets tackled easily.
The NFL Media Research account tweeted Roethlisberger is 18 of 19 on fourth-down runs.
Granted, those might not all be traditional sneaks, per se. But odds are most of those aren't exactly shotgun draws, wild scrambles or designed bootlegs.
So if Roethlisberger is good at it, and there is a need for a sneak in the playbook, why haven't the Steelers let him do it on a fourth-and-1 since 2014?
“I truly have never said ‘I don't want to run it,' ” Roethlisberger said on his KDKA-FM radio show. “I have asked for it. I am fine with it. If they want to call it, I'm all for it.”
The quarterback made similar comments in late October. That lead to an odd back-and-forth with offensive coordinator Todd Haley a few days later.
Reporter: “Ben says he doesn't know why you guys don't run the quarterback sneak.”
Haley: “Ben said that?”
Reporter: “Ben said that.”
Haley: “Um, maybe we'll have to get it in.”
Apparently they didn't.
I was there for that exchange. Haley's confusion made me wonder if this was a coaching and/or ownership decision. Was Haley's surprised response perhaps because Roethlisberger didn't want to run it either?
If so, Haley didn't lift the curtain. He simply went on to call the absence of a QB sneak “a general staff decision” because “some coaching staffs choose to not allow their quarterback to get earholed in the side of the head.”
OK. So the goal is to protect Roethlisberger from concussions. Well as of this ESPN study about the QB sneak on November 8th, Tom Brady had done it 124 times in his career.
If it's such a risky play, why have the Patriots exposed the most valuable asset in football that often?
“Whether or not we choose to call it in a specific moment is up for debate,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “But to suggest there is a resistance to it in concept, I'm not willing to say that.”
Well, based on those numbers stated above, somebody must be consciously resisting it. I'm of the opinion Roethlisberger is at least complicit in the agreement to avoid running the sneak often.
After all, this a quarterback that is excellent at improvisation and is never shy about announcing to the media when he has changed a play based on a last moment look or told a receiver to vamp a route based on a feel he has gotten from the defense.
But a mundane QB sneak is off the board?
Roethlisberger pointed out on his show that the whole offensive line needs to know an audible to a QB sneak is happening. So it would only be something he could improvise during a huddle.
Great. How about all that time during Jacksonville's time out in between third and fourth down in the first quarter? Was that sufficient time?
Putting a ban on — or at the least failing to incorporate — a quarterback sneak is stupid. It's an incredibly simple play. It's a practical play. And, as we saw Sunday, the world will notice if you don't use it.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.