Burn this play! The Steelers’ fourth-down flat pass to Najee Harris

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With 3:09 left in the Steelers’ eventual 24-10 Week 3 loss to the Bengals, Pittsburgh had fourth-and-10 from the Cincinnati 11-yard line. We all know that Ben Roethlisberger’s arm is basically cooked for all intents and purposes, but the decision to throw a little flat pass to rookie running back Najee Harris was an unfortunate one, as the Bengals were all over it, the play lost a yard, and the Bengals got the ball back.

“We just didn’t execute it as we hoped,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said later in the week. “We called the play, we had guys in the end zone. It just didn’t work. Bad play. Plays that don’t work are bad plays.”

Well, this play didn’t work, and it was a bad play.

Right after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin revealed the strategy behind the call as only he could.

“We had fired all of our bullets at that juncture in terms of some of our play selection. It just wasn’t a good enough play to get in there. They had a picket fence, if you will, because of situations just like the conversation we were having over here. They’re going to allow you to probably throw and catch the ball in front of them, but you’ve got to do some things after that. They had a bunch of guys running along the goal-line like happens whenever it’s fourth and goal from the eight or nine or whatever it was.”

Roethlisberger agreed on the reasoning, and added that he wished he’d made a different type of throw.

“They have a type of defense—we call it a picket fence—where they just sit back. And we anticipated that. That’s what they showed, so we were going to try to get it to him to get guys out front to block for him, see what we could do. You’re a little limited from that far out on what you can do except maybe throw a ball up or, you know, in hindsight, we wish we would have taken a shot in the end zone. I wish I would have done that.”

Did the Steelers learn from this particular mistake? Nooooooo, they did not. With 2:40 left in the third quarter of Pittsburgh’s Sunday game against the Packers, the Steelers had fourth-and-four at the Green Bay 32-yard line with the Packers up, 27-10. The Steelers made the call to go for it, and what did they call?

You guessed it: A flat pass to Najee Harris, and the Packers were just as all over it as the Bengals had been the week before. The result was exactly the same: A one-yard loss, and a turnover on downs.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

That particular truism is widely attributed to Albert Einstein, and it’s something the Steelers should consider in any fourth down situation throughout the rest of the season.