Breaking Down Byron Leftwich as the Steelers Starter

Dan SnyderCorrespondent INovember 14, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Byron Leftwich #4 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on against the New York Jets during the game on September 16, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When I ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North in the beginning of the season, I did place a Steeler quarterback at number 5, but it wasn't Byron Leftwich. I had Charlie Batch as the fifth best quarterback in the division and the next best option for Pittsburgh next to Ben Roethlisberger.

Apparently, the Steelers didn't feel the same way.

It seemed like the obvious choice at the time. Batch has a career record of 5-2 as a fill-in starter in the Steel City while Leftwich has never started a game in Pittsburgh. In fact, Leftwich's 14 attempts against Kansas City was his highest season total since he was a member of the Buccaneers in 2009.

So why is it then that the Steelers chose Leftwich to be the guy who would take over for their franchise quarterback?

At 32 years old, Leftwich is six years younger than Batch and, presumably, has more left in the tank. He's got a much stronger arm and, despite his nearly 250-pound frame, moves better within the pocket.

But the real question is, how well can Leftwich play in the Steelers system?

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley's playbook isn't the most difficult in the league to understand, but it takes a certain type of quarterback to pull it off. Over the years, Haley has worked from short to long, meaning he likes to dump the ball off on quick underneath routes to open up some big plays over the top.

He's run this offense going back to his days in Arizona when Kurt Warner was steering the ship. Warner's quick and accurate release allowed the team to move the ball as effective as anyone in the league. Warner never completed less than 62% of his passes while under Haley.

That offense has transitioned well in Pittsburgh, leading Ben Roethlisberger off to one of the best starts of his career. Big Ben was completing 66.1% of his throws this season before leaving the Kansas City game with shoulder and rib injuries.

The reality is, Leftwich doesn't fit well in the system Haley likes to employ.

Leftwich has a big arm and, throughout his career, has had a propensity to fire the ball deep and stretch the field. He also has a major problem with his delivery, one that has been the biggest complaint of his detractors.

Byron's passing motion is long. Actually, long might be an understatement. He's unquestionably got the slowest delivery in the NFL today and maybe since the modern quarterback was invented. It almost looks like he's pitching.

That delivery doesn't bode well in a system like the one Haley runs. Leftwich doesn't get the ball out of his hands quickly by any means and hasn't been the most accurate QB since he came into the league in 2003. In his three-and-a-half years as a starter in Jacksonville, Leftwich completed more than 60% of his passes just once (2004).

At this point, the Steelers are backing Leftwich as Roethlisberger's replacement and, with no timetable for Big Ben's return, you have to wonder how much Haley will change the offense and how it could affect the team long term.

Haley can't continue to run the so-called "dink and dunk" style that has been so successful in Pittsburgh this year simply because he doesn't have the quarterback to do it. That means more downfield throws and hoping your offensive line can keep pace.

There is, however, one way Leftwich and the offense can succeed and co-exist in harmony and that all starts with the run game.

Besides the Kansas City game, Pittsburgh has dominated on the ground over the last four weeks and is entering a game in which they'll play the leagues 26th ranked rush defense. If the Steelers can establish the run against the Ravens, they'll have a much better chance at getting Leftwich some of those deep shots he desires.

The Steelers are lucky enough to have a guy like Batch still on the roster in case the wheels fall off the Leftwich wagon. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, Leftwich is the guy in Pittsburgh, and that means he, or the offense, needs to adapt.