The only thing more painful than going too quickly from a franchise quarterback is hanging on for too long.
Three weeks into the start of the season, it became painfully clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers miscalculated when they brought in Ben Roethlisberger for one final run. The future Hall of Famer is well and truly cooked. And now the Steelers, who are 1-2 after losing to the Bengals on Sunday, plan to finish last in their division for the first time since 1988.
If you want to find a microcosm for all that’s wrong with Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, you don’t have to look far. Take the fourth and 10 call that ended any chance for the Steelers to win on Sunday. 14 points behind, with the ball in the red zone, Pittsburgh had one last shot to get back into the game:
At first viewing, it’s confusing. Funny, even. Did Ben Roethlisberger really just throw a pass behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth and 10? On the second, fourth and 10 views, it gets sad.
There was no separation on the ground. Roethlisberger’s protection did not hold up. The 39-year-old’s inability to get out of the pocket or dance inside forced him to hand the ball over to the first player he could find. The player, Najee Harris, the team’s most recent first-round pick, was swallowed up by five Cincinnati tackles.
It’s not particularly hard to understand the issues with the Steelers: low-level offensive training, low-level quarterback play, and questionable roster building.
Even their talented defense was beaten by an average Bengals team on Sunday. With TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith injured, Pittsburgh finished with zero sacks and no quarterback hits; The team’s 5.6% pressure rate was the lowest rate the team has had since the league started tracking the statistic. It was an ugly overall performance.
But that’s the offense, and Roethlisberger, where the main problems lie.
Roethlisberger is an extinction-fighting dinosaur, fast-paced passer who moves chains in a league that now demands explosive, field-level passing play. The rumble, the tumbling, Big Ben of yesteryear was gone for almost five years. Now he’s a player who kicks his foot back and gets the ball out, devoid of the art that elevated him from a good player to a Hall of Fame.
The Steelers have elevated Matt Canada from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator this offseason in an effort to give Roethlisberger a schematic fountain of youth. The whole vanity of Canada’s offensive is to use pre-hook disguises – movement and movement – to confuse the defense. Confuse and crush, they call it. It’s all about non-stop movement: you think the ball is here and then – surprise – it’s over there.
The only real surprise so far is that the Steelers believed that such a system – a system that struggled at the highest levels of college play – would work on a field full of professionals, and that they believed such a system-based approach. on gimmicks could cover for Roethlisberger’s waning effectiveness and a lack of talent along the team’s offensive line.
Against the Bengals, Roethlisberger completed 38 of 58 assists, throwing a two-steal touchdown. He averaged a decent triple-take of 5.5 yards per completion, with 32 of his 38 completions within 10 yards. It’s the kind of total that would typically see a quarterback sent off the bench.
But the Steelers have no other options. They opted to ride with Roethlisberger for one more season rather than jump into the Quarterback Musical Chairs final offseason game. They passed on the opportunities to draft a successor. They did not get involved in the conversations for Matthew Stafford. Even when the Jaguars made Gardner Minshew available for the pittance of a sixth-round pick, the Steelers opted out.
The standing slap can be the riskiest course. The point of hanging on to Roethlisberger was that while his physical gifts continued to weaken, his sense of the veteran strength guide the Steelers through games – his knowledge of covers, his handling of the game. And that Canada’s new offense would capitalize on the confusion for easy completions and yards.
It did not work. The offense looked stilted, Roethlisberger a sad shadow of his old self – undermined the ability to push the ball onto the pitch, to stumble on one’s own feet, indecision seeping across the screen.
With no future to look to, the Steelers face 14 long weeks.
Quote of the week
“I love you man!” – Rams defensive star Aaron Donald to Matthew Stafford.
You must almost feel sorry for Jared Goff at this point. Rams players, staff, fans, ticket attendants, hot dog vendors, security personnel, everyone is stunned at the sight of Matthew Stafford operating in Sean McVay’s offense. The Rams waxed a 34-24 smashed Bucs team in what could be a preview of the NFC Championship game. On both sides of the ball, the Rams looked faster and smoother than the Bucs. And while Stafford had their ups and downs early on, they pulled off enough big chunks to make a difference.
video of the week
It was a godsend for the special teams on Sunday. To recap: Justin Tucker hit the longest field goal in league history, doing a 66-yarder on the crossbar to sink the Lions at the end of the time limit; an official missed a kick return on behalf of the Cardinals, throwing his flag at the ball as it fell towards the returning man; and Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins got his own kick against the Bills with a kickoff that was not a kick in play.
But the craziest play of all came to Jacksonville. With two seconds left in the first half, Cardinals kicker Matt Prater was called in for a record 68-yard field goal. The result: a beautiful disaster.
Prater missed. Jamal Agnes returned the kick for a return of 109 yards and six kicks, tied for the longest touchdown in NFL history. Gus Johnson, working the game for Fox, self-immolated:
New rule: Johnson must work all The Cardinals’ matches are progressing.
MVP of the week
Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers. Sunday’s victory over the Chiefs was a decisive game for Herbert, his coach Brandon Staley and the Chargers. Herbert threw for 281 yards and four TDs on the road, punishing the Chiefs for a series of botched (now characteristic) mistakes.
LA offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi asked Herbert to step up the tempo, baffling a Chiefs defense that couldn’t line up before the snap. As the Chiefs continued to stumble on offense, Herbert played a clean game, taking whatever was presented to him without forcing the problem. It was a mature performance of a quarterback who quickly evolves from a fun player doing “wow” throws to a winner who jumps on my cape… who makes “wow” throws.
The Chargers’ victory drops the Chiefs to 1-2 this season, which makes the race for the AFC West very interesting.
ESPN also reported that Chiefs coach Andy Reid was taken to hospital as a precaution after feeling unwell. Hopefully a good coach – and one of the best people in the league – recovers well.
Statistics of the week
Bears on average 1.1 yards per play against the Browns, the second weakest of any team in a game this century.
It’s hard to imagine how Justin Fields’ first start as the Bears quarterback could have been worse. There are a number of miserable stats to choose from from the Bears’ 26-6 loss to the Browns:
– Fields has been sacked nine times.
– The fields made only six passes.
– Fields was pressured on 55% of his losses.
– The Bears ended the game with a (!) Yard pass, the lowest total for a team since 2009.
–The last time a Browns defense held a team 47 attacking yards, they were playing against the New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference. The year was 1946.
However, a small part of the blame should fall at Fields’ feet. His offensive line was totally ill-equipped to deal with one of the best pass-rush units in the league. While his trainer, Matt Nagy, has continued to deploy the same uninspired drivel he’s inflicted on the franchise since the 2018 season.
Elsewhere in the league
– The Bills beat Washington 43-21 to go 2-1 this season. Josh Allen and the Bills offense have now registered 78 points and 10 TDs in the past two weeks against two of the league’s strongest defenses. After a week of inexplicable loss to the Steelers, the Bills now look like an honest juggernaut. Allen plays at the MVP level. The defense is fiery. Division: child’s play. With the Chiefs’ shaky start to the season, the Bills should be the favorites to clinch home ground advantage in the AFC throughout the playoffs.
– Aaron Rodgers had 37 seconds left to get the Packers out of a 28-27 hole against the 49ers in Sunday Night Football. You’ve seen this one before: He led them onto the field and Mason Crosby did the rest, converting a 54-yard field goal to give Green Bay one final victory. Rodgers threw two touchdowns and no interceptions – this clunker he played in week one looks more and more like an anomaly than a trend.
– It’s only the third week, but we already have the impression that the AFC South is the Titans to lose. Tennessee beat Indianapolis 26-16 to put the Colts in a 0-3 hole. Add to that: The Titans will face the Jets and Jaguars over the next two weeks. Considering the dysfunction in Houston, the rebuilding in Jacksonville and the mountain of injuries in Indianapolis, the Titans have as clear a path as anyone to a division title.
– Kirk Cousins plays as well as any quarterback in the league. In three weeks, he threw for just under 1,000 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. After two brutal losses, Cousins led the Vikings to a 30-17 victory over the Seahawks. Going into the season, it was only fair to question Cousins’ long-term status with this team. But so far, it’s the Minnesota defense that has held the team back.
— New season. New diet. New quarterback. Same Jets. It doesn’t get any more difficult for a rookie quarterback than facing Bill Belichick and Vic Fangio in straight weeks. Still: the Jets’ 26-0 loss to the Broncos made wince. All pre-season optimism has already faded.