Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley had his usually talk with the media on Thursday and made a point to say that they will call the offense around the strengths of quarterback Byron Leftwich while Ben Roethlisberger is sidelined by his shoulder and rib injury. He also made a point to say that the big picture of the offense will not in the process.
“I think in the big picture they don’t change much at all, Haley said, when asked about how much the offense will change. “With that being said, Byron is not Ben, and I think it’s very important that we and he understand that. He can’t go out there and try to be Ben. He needs to go out there and be Byron and we need to, just like I say every week and this is why I make the point every time you all say “Haley offense,” it’s not my offense.”
“We’re going to do things that cater to the strengths of our players and obviously that will be critical when you talk about the quarterback position. We’re going to do our best to cater to Byron’s strengths, as opposed to trying to force square pegs in round holes, so to speak.”
So what exactly are the strengths of Leftwich and what are his weaknesses?
For starters, it is true that Leftwich does have a bigger wind up. That has been beat to death already by the mainstream. Leftwich does, however, have a very strong arm. He really can zip it. Does he have touch? No, not so no much, but he can deliver a homerun ball with the best of them if the timing is right between him and his receiver, notably Mike Wallace.
What about accuracy? Leftwich certainly does not have the accuracy of Roethlisberger, especially with his throws outside the numbers, but between the numbers, when he can step into his throws, he is generally on target. His lack of outside the number accuracy was evidenced with him being wide with his throw to Emmanuel Sanders in the front left corner of the end zone last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Back shoulder throws are also not his specialty, and because of his lack of touch, he is not good at throwing the fade either.
Leftwich is not a quarterback that is mobile, and besides, he does not throw well on the move anyways. He is a classic pocket passer that does not perform well with pressure in his face. Pass protection is a must in this game and the Steelers offensive line must protect that half second longer in order for Leftwich to step into his throws and deliver his delayed release.
Some strengths? As I just mentioned above, Leftwich is pretty accurate at hitting moving targets and giving his receivers a chance to make the catch on throws over the middle. We saw this last week on the two key throws that he made to Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
Haley will likely try to emphasize a heavier use of rub, slant, and smash routes this week and generally have Leftwich work the middle of the field. The success of the Steelers running game is imperative this week in addition as they must force the Baltimore Ravens defense to defend it all out. The Ravens, on the other hand, want Leftwich to have to throw as much as possible. If the run is working for the Steelers Sunday night it will open up play action, something that Leftwich is good at selling. This will also allow him to take some deep shots to Wallace, who will be going up against second team cornerbacks in this game as starters Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are sidelined.
If the Steelers can\’t run the ball effectively Sunday night their chances of winning decrease tremendously. Leftwich is not a quarterback that can win games by throwing the football 30 or more times a game. In fact, he is 7-1 as a starter during his career as a starter in games that he has attempted 20-25 passes.
Another strength of Leftwich is that he is a solid game manager and he understands defenses and coverages. This is no rookie we are dealing with here.
Can Leftwich power the Steelers to a win Sunday night? Sure, but don\’t expect him to throw for 300 yards and put up 28 points. The Steelers offense must run the ball against a Ravens defense that is susceptible to it. The receivers also must get separation in order for Leftwich to not be forced to throw the football into tight spaces. The Steelers defense also plays a big, if not a bigger role, in them winning this game. A close low scoring game is the best route to a Steelers win. If they can\’t hold the Ravens to under 23 points it will likely result in a loss.
Leftwich is not a Pro Bowl quarterback and should not be expected to play like one. He is, however, a serviceable spot starter if the offense that he runs gives him time and executes on the ground. Leftwich can lose this game with turnovers, but he can also win it if he doesn\’t.