Bouchette on the Steelers: Is it time to El-evate the offense?
Maybe the Steelers are missing a rare opportunity at quarterback today in Tampa, Fla. Maybe they are going with the wrong guy.
Byron Leftwich instead of Charlie Batch? Not necessarily. But, what about Antwaan Randle El instead.
The suggestion is facetious, but, if something happens to Batch and Leftwich today, they will not hesitate to turn to the little guy who still believes he could have been a quarterback in the NFL. And, whenever he has gotten the chance, Randle El has proven he can play quarterback in the NFL.
He has yet to throw a pass in his second stint with the Steelers, but in his previous eight NFL seasons, Randle El completed 20 of 25 passes in the regular season for four touchdowns. His near-perfect passer rating of 153.1 is the highest in NFL history among players who have thrown at least a dozen.
Those numbers do not include his biggest completion of all, the one he threw to Hines Ward for 43 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter that helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XL. He is the only wide receiver to throw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.
"I'd like to have a whole bunch of those," Randle El said. "That was my big moment, one of the biggest moments of my career, of course."
He has taken five or six snaps in every practice with the scout team for the past three weeks, just in case and he and the Steelers have no doubts about his ability to run the offense if needed. It is why they did not sign anyone after injuries to Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.
"To bring in a quarterback, you'd have to cut a young player," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "I don't think it would do any good. They haven't been in our offense, they wouldn't have a clue. He'll play better than anybody we could bring in off the street at this point in time.
"El's so smart, he can do it without getting many reps. He can handle it. I would never count him out of anything."
He serves as the Steelers' No. 3 receiver as well as their No. 3 quarterback, and he also returns punts. He made a few first-team All-America lists as the quarterback at Indiana University, where he passed for 1,664 yards and ran for 964 his final season.
"If it was my choice coming out of college, I would be a quarterback," El maintains.
But the NFL does not like quarterbacks who are just 5 feet 10, so the Steelers drafted El in the second round in 2002 to play receiver. He does not attend quarterback meetings but coaches keep him abreast with paperwork.
"We have packages and stuff in for me, where I'm more than capable of attacking a defense ... if that happens, I'm going to grab it by the horns and take off."
Antonio Brown took off last Sunday in Tennessee. The first time the rookie touched the ball in his first game, he did not stop running until the end zone with an 89-yard punt return. He did slow down, though, about the 10 in order to go into a celebratory prance.
"I'm an exciting player and I work really hard," Brown said. "To start off my first game like that, any kid in the world would have felt like I did.
"It's all about how you're feeling. I had a good time celebrating at the 10, but you could see when I got in the end zone I was jumping around with my teammates, the guys who provided great blocks. I'm going to give you a little excitement every time I get in there."
He returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns last season at Central Michigan but that was the MAC, not the NFL, right?
"I'm trying to be the tops in this league," said Brown, "so the goal is to run back every one I touch."
It was typical NFL coaching when Atlanta's Mike Smith opted to receive when his team won the coin toss to start overtime in the season opener at Heinz Field.
No coach dares not take the ball anymore in overtime, no matter what the wind conditions, no matter what the conditions on either team's offense or defense. Not since early in this decade when Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg took the wind instead of the ball in an overtime game against the Chicago Bears and lost.
That ended matters right then and there, practically guaranteeing that no NFL coach would choose to kick off in overtime, even if the wind is howling, even if his offense has stunk up the joint all day.
Everyone was a perfect Monday morning quarterback on that one, skewering Mornhinweg for his choice. How could he not take the ball?
Even if a coach loses, he will at least not be criticized in the media for not taking the ball in overtime. It does not mean he was right, just that he will not be criticized for it. And that is all that matters. Remember, these coaches are in the same fraternity that opposed the two-point conversion for so long in the NFL. Why? Because they would have to make choices and, for every wrong choice, there is criticism. If there is no choice, you kick the point because that is all that is available to you. But, if you have to choose between going for one or two, well, you better make the right choice because there will be a storm if you are wrong.
Another coaching rote call that does not make much sense is calling time out before the two-minute warning in order to "save" time. Mike Tomlin did it with 2:05 left in regulation of a tie game and the ball on the Steelers' 44 in the opener. It was second-and-5.
Why? If he did not call the time out, the clock would have stopped at the two-minute warning. That is what happened after he called the timeout as well. But, if he had not called the timeout, he still would have had that timeout to use at his discretion.