Turning Point: Bad Play Call On 3rd Down Deep In Ravens End

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense sputtered constantly Sunday night in the 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, but one third down play call deep inside the Baltimore red zone could have easily changed the outcome of the game.

With 44 seconds left in the third quarter the Steelers offense faced a third down and 2 at the Ravens four yard-line following a Pittsburgh timeout. The drive up until that point had included the Steelers running the ball for 38 yards on 6 carries as the Pittsburgh offensive line seemed to be having their way with the Ravens front.

Instead of running Jonathan Dwyer or Rashard Mendenhall up the middle, the Steelers chose instead to have an injured Byron Leftwich attempt to hit Mike Wallace on a fade route to the back right corner of the end zone. Wallace did wind up making the catch but was unable to get both feet in bounds in doing so.

The Steelers then opted to settle for a Shaun Suisham 22 yard field goal in what would wind up being their only trip inside the Ravens red zone in the game.

Had Dwyer or Mendenhall not made the two yards needed on the play, head coach Mike Tomlin still would have had the decision to go for it on fourth down depending on the distance needed or settle for the field goal that they ultimately got.

Even had the offense ultimately been stopped on fourth down, the Ravens offense would have been pinned deep in their own end and the Steelers more than likely would have gotten the ball back with their best field position of the game.

The pass play to Wallace was a very low percentage play call as it did not play to the strengths of Leftwich, and even more so being that he was clearly not 100% at that point. Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley really need to be questioned about this decision next week.

  • Tim Culligan

    baffled me. I always feel like swing routes and fades are low percentage calls unless the QB and WR are guys who’ve been running them for a long time with each other. I dont even like Ben doing it.

    It’s not even that I don’t think lefty can make that throw, its that the play is something probably not practiced a ton and a play that really has one option and the pass needs to be perfect. Heath has been golden in the Red Zone, he would have been a good target for a 5 yard route across the middle, possibly off play action, since you know, running it also would be a pretty high percentage play as well. I don’t think that play would have won the game for Pittsburgh as the game would have been different for the Ravens offense after, but man, that one hurt.

  • zyzak


  • Matt Lipner

    I was pretty disappointed with Haley’s play calling all night. There were no creative pass blocking schemes to help out Adams. On obvious blitzing downs there seemed to be no quick check down, and Leftwich had no choice but to take a few costly sacks.

  • Matt Lipner

    It’s also safe to say that the turning point in the game, and in the end the aspect of the game that made it nearly impossible for the Steelers to pull out a win, was the special teams. The coverage team looked absolutely lazy out there, and not just on the TD. For all of our praise of the Steelers’ FO, they are absolutely inept when it comes to hiring capable special teams coaches.

  • Where was the underneath passes and I’m trying to figure out why they allow Leftwich to continue playing when they knew he was injured. He was jacked up the whole game.

  • Buccos9

    The bigger question for me is why Tomlin left Leftwich in the whole game. He clearly hurt his shoulder tripping over the goal line (note to grounds keeeper – lower the goal line before there is a serous injury) and got worse after absorbing hits. He missed a number of wide open receivers. My question is this – if Batch is not better than an injured Leftwich, why is he on the team? This reminds me of the decision to leave in an injured Roethlisberger last year against the 49ers, even though he could barely move. Tomlin’s philosophy seems to be that a hobbled number 1 QB is far better than a number 2 QB, and a badly hobbled number 2 QB is far better than a number 3 QB. So much for the Tomlin bull about “the standard is the standard”. It’s clear that he doesn’t even believe it.

  • Douglas Andrews

    What about some misdirection or screen plays i only counted one maybe two.

  • Bob Francis

    I agree, Dave. On a night when getting back into the red zone was not assured by any means, you have to come out of that sequence with 7. With how the defense was playing, all PIT needed was a lead of any kind. Run it on 3rd and 4th down to get the first down and then get the 7 – then leave it to the defense.

    I’m not as down on Leftwich as some, but seeing him in there had me nervous all night. I just never had confidence that he could string together 4-5 pass completions in a single drive. No one can question his toughness, but he also seems so fragile. Not sure Charlie would be better.

    What do you think about PIT starting to look elsewhere for a backup QB? Needing a starting-caliber replacement for Ben is still years away, but you’ve got to have a backup who you think can win. I’d also like to see some younger blood behind Ben. I feel like Byron and Charlie are practically old men back there.

  • Ahmad

    I’m still scratching my head at why the Steelers didn’t run the ball. I mean if you’re going to pass it, at least do it off of play action to keep them honest.

  • I agree that a run was the better call, but Leftwich threw a good pass. If Wallace had any hands, he could have stretch them completely and make the catch without his feet leaving the ground. Because he can only catch with his hands near his chest, he had to jump and his momentum carried him OB…he has really bad hands (the fumble is another example), and I don’t know if that can be fixed, but if it can’t, he should not get elite WR money.

  • Don

    Agreed on the fades. It’s a pet peeve of mine how many times coaches call this play. It has its time and place, but it’s run WAY too much.

  • Clackarelli

    Wallace just isn’t a clutch receiver. Without his undoubted speed he wouldn’t be in the nfl.