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Film Room: Pound the rock to lighten the load on Ben Roethlisberger is the new Steelers formula

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team slowly developing a ground-and-pound approach to offense. We break it down in the Film Room.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers absolutely and utterly crushed the souls of the team resembling cats.

I’m talking about the Bengals by the way.

The last time the Steelers played a team using some form of cat as their mascot was in Week 5. The Steelers team we saw vs. the Bengals is the polar opposite of the team Pittsburgh saw two weeks ago. This “new” Steelers team has an identity, and that’s running the ball down the opposing defense’s throats.

It’s no coincidence the Steelers not only are winning, but their QB has been playing a lot better since that 5-INT disaster. The reason is quite simple.

Ben Roethlisberger had 55 passing attempts in Week 5 and a 37.8 passer rating. He’s had a combined 49 attempts in the past two weeks and notched a 97.4 and 117.4 passer rating respectively in those weeks.

Run to set up the pass. Who knew?

My facetious comment aside, the Steelers’ power- and counter-run game was on full display in this game. Some of these plays are teaching tapes and it was just beautiful to watch.

Q3: 2ND & 7 AT PIT 26(12:44)

The Steelers are going to be running G lead on this play. This play is run out of a 2-back look with the play-side guard (David DeCastro) taking on the force player (Kirkpatrick). For those who don’t know, the force player’s first responsibility is to set the edge and their second is to make sure they keep the inside gap small. Then you’ve got Nix who leads and blocks the LB.

As expected, DeCastro pancakes the force player and you got a gaping hole off of the D-gap. Rosie goes full backs-on-backers and meets the MLB, while he essentially obstructs Burfict’s path towards the play. Bell has plenty of real estate to run through, as he gets 15 yards and a first down.

You couldn’t have drawn that up any better. Give credit to Nix too. That guy does such great work as a blocker, and is such an underrated catalyst behind the Steelers’ improved success on the ground.

However, don’t think Ben Roethlisberger is just fading into mediocrity. The Steelers ol’ QB showed on Sunday that he’s far from done.

Q1: 1ST & 10 AT CIN 47(12:52)

The Steelers on this play are running a screen on right side and slant flat concept on the left side of the field.

What sticks out about this play is Ben’s field vision and how he anticipated this throw. You can see him look back to the right side and give a shoulder fake. Comes back to the right side. He gets the underneath defender on the slant to bite on his pump-fake and then Ben manipulates his arm angle to hit AB right in stride. The placement couldn’t have been better.

This is what makes Ben great, using pump-fakes to manipulate the defense and anticipate throwing windows. You can see in Ben’s body language how confident he is, a quality that was rather lacking earlier in the season, especially in Weeks 3 and 5.

Last and most certainly not least, my favorite throw of the day had to be the the throw which was the catalyst behind the scoring drive before halftime.

Q2: 2ND & 17 AT PIT 16(00:55)

Smash is one of my favorite passing concepts. It’s a classic concept designed to beat cover-2. Typically the slot runs the corner post, so in this case it’s an inverted smash concept. The Bengals roll out cover-2 on this play and all Ben is really doing is reading the field side CB. The whole basis of the concept is whether the CB bites on the curl or stays with AB.

The CB didn’t really bite on the curl but he hasn’t exactly committed to the post either. In a lot of cases, QBs that don’t have great arms (cough—Andy Dalton) would just check it down to Bell in this case. That’s the thing though—Ben Roethlisberger’s calling card is arm strength.

Remember when I kept saying Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t done?

I meant it because I knew he still had the talent to make these hole-shot throws between a safety and an underneath CB. His talent hasn’t diminished, but the Steelers were putting too much pressure on him by asking him to throw more than 30 times a game at age 35.

By the way, the Bengals have the No. 3 passing defense in the league, and I’m almost positive they were ranked No. 1 coming into this game.

Sometimes less equals more, and that’s the case with how the Steelers’ passing offense should operate. There’s a reason this team wins when they run the ball 25-30 times a game. It’s their offensive identity.

Smash-mouth football...welcome back to the Steelers’ identity.