Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) talks with tight end Heath Miller (83) and offensive coordinator Todd Haley after a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Steelers 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
I saw the other day that Roethlisberger took the blame for the Steelers’ disappointing season. While I think it is a mature thing to do when you are the “face of the franchise,” I’m not sure I am willing to pin the season to one person or one thing. The story was picked up by several national sports organizations including Fox Sports. Their article carries the quote:
"”A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch,” Roethlisberger said. ”Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I’m just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn’t play well enough.”"
OK, fair enough Ben. Again, I applaud him for making a mature statement and not just using a blame-thrower across the locker room.
However, if I were in a position to truly assign blame and have it mean something, I’m not sure I would start with Roethlisberger. Don’t get me wrong – I am one of the last people to defend Ben Roethlisberger after his off the field issues. However, as I look around I think there is plenty of blame to go around.
First, why does Roethlisberger have to make so many fourth quarter comebacks? There were several games where the defense gave the game back to the opponent. The game against the Raiders comes to mind. I know the honorable and brilliant Dick LeBeau is coming back for an unprecedented 55 consecutive year in the NFL. I know he paved the way for some amazing forms of defense. However, he’s not infallible and there have been some head-scratching defensive performances this year.
Second, Roethlisberger has been dealing with a rotating offense. The injury-fairy has been generous and spread injuries around through the offensive line, the wide receivers, and the running backs. Yes, it comes back to the quarterback to make the plays as the offensive coordinator sets them up or find a way to make it work with what he has. However, I still think consistency is a big factor and the lack of offensive consistency worked against Roethlisberger. It seemed to me that Roethlisberger stayed upright more often during the first three or four games this season until the injuries piled up on his offensive line. His interception rate was also very low. But, the long passes were also very low. Which leads me to me next point.
Third: Roethlisberger is taking fewer risks. Perhaps this is what he is alluding to in his comments. There are two sides to this coin. For Roethlisberger to make spectacular, fourth quarter comeback plays, he’s going to have to take risks. The risk is that he will turn the ball over. The long bombs that make you hold your breath also set up the defense to follow the ball and get to it first. SO, to eliminate that and hold down the possibility of turn overs, you turn to shorter passes. Those too can be intercepted, but the supposed risk is low. Well, theoretically. Your receivers, running backs, and tight ends have to HOLD ON TO THE BALL. Wow, the number of fumbles and drops this year are mind boggling. Surely Ben can’t take the blame for all of them. Perhaps some of them weren’t thrown well and the receiver couldn’t catch the ball and maintain control, but seriously, that is what they get paid for. If a guy can’t hold onto a ball in adverse conditions then he doesn’t stay in the NFL for long.
So, I’m just ranting here a little bit, but as I said right after the loss to Cincinnati a week ago, I think the Steelers need to do a top down scrub and that includes staff. I do think Roethlisberger bears some of the blame for the season. However, it is hard to place it all on him.