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Steelers to play to Leftwich's strengths

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 7:14 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch throws during practice on the South Side Nov. 14, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch talks with Byron Leftwich during practice on the South Side Nov. 14, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

There's probably not a quarterback better equipped to run Todd Haley's “dink-and-dunk” offense than Charlie Batch.

So when Ben Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder/rib injury, forcing him out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, including Sunday night's game against Baltimore, it created a buzz that the 37-year-old Batch should leapfrog the strong-armed Byron Leftwich and become the starter in Haley's short-passing attack.

That would merit consideration if there was, in fact, a “Haley” offense.

Haley reiterated Thursday that his is not a scheme-oriented offense; he instead plays to the strengths of his personnel.

Haley showed that as a coordinator in Arizona and as head coach in Kansas City. Now he will have a chance to will prepare a game plan around Leftwich, who hasn't started a game in more than three years.

Translation: The dink-and-dunk will be scaled back for at least a couple weeks.

“When I say it is not a system, it is not a system,” Haley said. “It is the way I've been brought up to coach, and the way you maximize the players you have is you better play to their strengths. So when Byron is in there, we're going to do our best to cater to his strengths.”

A day earlier, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin downplayed any drastic changes with the game plan, calling the changes subtle.

“It isn't anything that is complex,” Tomlin said.

There will be changes with Leftwich in the starting lineup, and it's logical to believe one of those changes would involve taking more shots downfield.

Nearly 60 percent of Roethlisberger's attempts this year have been thrown for fewer than 10 yards down the field — nearly 10 percent less than a year ago.

That style would seem to play better to Batch's strengths than Leftwich's, but the coaching staff never hesitated in naming Leftwich as Roethlisberger's replacement.

“You're always disappointed that way. Any time you hope to have a chance to play, you want to be that guy,” Batch said. “Unfortunately for me right now, I'm not.”

Batch has been inactive for all nine games this year.

“But now I do have an opportunity to dress, and that means it's a lot better than being the third quarterback, being inactive, not dressed because (then) you have no chance of going into the game,” Batch said.

Batch has proved more recently than Leftwich that's he is able to play winning football on short notice. Batch is 5-2 filling in for Roethlisberger since 2005. Leftwich has never started a game for the Steelers but relieved Roethlisberger in 2008 and defeated Washington.

Unlike those games, the coaching staff has a full week to prepare a game plan specific to Leftwich's strengths.

“We're going to do our best to cater to Byron's strengths as opposed to trying to force square pegs into round holes,” Haley said. “He can't go out there trying to be Ben. He needs to go out there and be Byron.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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