The Steelers' protection problems with the offensive line have been a major cause for concern with Ben Roethlisberger and stopping the pass rush of opposing teams. When newly acquired tackle Levi Brown went down it sent a multitude of messages to the team; one was that no other lineman could afford to go down to injury, the other was that the offense was going to have to find a way to mitigate any pressure the New York Jets might try to bring.
Ramon Foster noted that the offensive line responded to the injury with urgency, knowing that no one could not fall to injury. The offensive line arguably put out their best collective performance of the season by only allowing three sacks and allowed Roethlisberger to only be hit three additional times.
However these results might also have been due to the offensive scheme of Todd Haley and the quick releases of Roethlisberger.
Of Roethlisberger's 30 pass attempts, 60 percent featured a pass release shorter than six seconds from the start of a play. In fact, within his first 10 passes, only one was thrown later than three seconds after the snap. In addition, more than one third of those pass attempts were screens to either Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Le'Veon Bell or Emmanuel Sanders.
While the quick passing scheme allowed for Ben Roethlisberger to complete more than 75% of his passes, it also was an effective way to take away the Jets' efforts to pressure the quarterback and splash defensive plays. Although the offensive line cannot be charged with the demerit of being the source of every Steelers' offensive turnover this season, their lack of an ability to protect Roethlisberger has undoubtedly played a large factor.
The quick passing scheme on Sunday limited the ability of Jets' pass rush, led by defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, to make big plays. It also helped the Steelers' offense complete its first game in 2013 without committing a turnover.
The quick screens and passing was the sort of 'dink and dunk' style that protected Roethlisberger and eventually wore down the Jets' defense; this is most noticeable from the Steelers' biggest offensive play of the season that featured Emmanuel Sanders somersaulting into the end zone to complete a 55 yard touchdown pass.
While the play action play call on a third down with only two yards to go did aid Sanders' ability to get open, his double move ultimately shook the coverage of Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie bit on the first move of Sanders which allowed him break down field and score the touchdown with ease. But the double move might not have had as much of an impact if the Jets' secondary hadn't been getting hit with quick releases and short passes from Roethlisberger throughout the game.
This is where Haley's offense finally put together a game they could be commended for. The offense could have performed better, but the short passes of Roethlisberger took a toll on the Jets' secondary enough to victimize their most senior member in Cromartie for the game's biggest play.
While the Steelers' defense has faced criticism for not jumping more short passes from opposing teams over the past few years, it has been their discipline that has limited opponents' abilities to make big plays. Eventually teams will take those big shots down the field after their patience starts to wear thin from making short passes throughout the game that don't yield splash plays. Cromartie did on that play what the Steelers' corners have prided themselves in not doing for years.
Haley's offense had to adjust to protect itself from its own weakness of weak pass protection. With more than half of the offensive plays featuring personnel sets with at least two tight ends, it was obvious Haley emphasized protecting his prized quarterback. Looking forward however, the offensive line will have to continue to improve behind Sunday's performance to allow Roethlisberger more time to read defenses and make plays down the field.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers stomp Jets: Everything you need to know
- Meet Richard Gordon, the newest addition to the Steelers roster
- Levi Brown, David Johnson placed on injured reserve, Steelers sign two
- BTSC Week 7 Power Rankings
- A meditation on the meaning of a Steelers win
- Rushing for 100 yards rare for Steelers against Ravens
- Steelers offense: Todd Haley focused on quick pass
- Roethlisbergers expecting their second child
- Polamalu leads by painful example
- Pathetic run game has been productive enough
- Tomlin improves to 6-1 after bye week
- Steelers win ugly, but it could be pyrrhic
- Steelers vs. Jets: Win was a Cowher "blow out"
- Jets Smith credits Clark, Polamalu