Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions could be costly

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger finished the regular season with three consecutive 2-interception games. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger finished the regular season with three consecutive 2-interception games. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Steelers are flying high following their shocking playoff berth, but Pittsburgh is going to be one-and-done unless QB Ben Roethlisberger stops his constant interceptions.

It’s time to address the elephant in the room. Ben Roethlisberger, regardless of how vital he is to the Steelers’ offense, has been a turnover machine lately – all season, to be more exact.

If we’re being brutally honest, Big Ben has resembled Jay Cutler far too often this year. Roethlisberger is practically a guarantee to toss at least one interception per game.

He threw two interceptions in each of the final three contests of the regular season. Against divisional foes Baltimore and Cleveland to close out the year, Ben’s picks were particularly hideous.

Roethlisberger, in 12 games started, has been intercepted 16 times. Yikes. That’s good for third in the entire NFL only behind second-year QB Blake Bortles and the lame-duck chucking Peyton Manning.

In only two games this season – blowouts of the 49ers and Colts – was Roethlisberger mistake-free. Saturday night against the Bengals, he’d better be if the Steelers are going to advance to the Divisional round.

With DeAngelo Williams nursing an ankle injury, the pressure on Ben mounts even greater. Third-string running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is, well, exactly that. He’ll certainly be hungry to make a name for himself, but the Steelers will undoubtedly lean on the pass. Even if D-Will can suit up, he’s destined to receive a smaller work load.

To make matters even worse, the Bengals have Roethlisberger’s number when it comes to the beloved deep ball. Cincy typically lines up defensively with two high safeties, fencing off nearly all opportunities for game-breaking big plays. Bengals safety Reggie Nelson absolutely owns Roethlisberger; he’s picked Ben off three times this year in two games. Nelson is always in position when Ben heaves it downfield. 

The disappearance of Martavis Bryant leaves Pittsburgh without a true home run hitter. Dropped passes and uninspired routes got Bryant benched for Darrius Heyward-Bey last Sunday in Cleveland. DHB has the speed to get down field, although his physical prowess doesn’t scare anybody.

This leaves the Steelers offense relying heavily on Antonio Brown. This is nothing new, of course. But looking to AB too frequently is a major reason for the spike in Roethlisberger’s interceptions.

Ben has been forcing passes to Brown for the past two weeks. (It should be noted that Bryant has accumulated merely two catches for six yards in this span.) A lack of a deep threat allows defenses to hover underneath and send an extra pass rusher. As a result, #7 overcompensates by rifling passes into tight coverage that have no business being thrown.

Forcing throws to Brown simply doesn’t work. At 5’10”, Brown isn’t a guy you can toss up prayers to and hope for the best. Brown’s superb route-running skills allow him to get open in space, where he shreds defenses. AB doesn’t need a gaping window to make plays, but given his limited size and tendency to be double-covered, expecting him to out-muscle defenders in a crowd is unrealistic.

It is Bryant’s responsibility to get back into his usual form. Markus Wheaton also will have to step up and create offensive opportunities. In the end, though, the primary concern for the Steelers offense is mistake-free football.

Next: Steelers defensive huddle

The enigmatic Pittsburgh defense should pressure AJ McCarron plenty, but you know the drill by now. A.J. Green is a lock for a big night. Tyler Eifert is back and healthy. The scoring chances are there for the Bengals.

A crippled run game and a scarce deep threat seemingly give the Bengals defense the edge. It will be up to Roethlisberger on Saturday to atone for his mistakes. If he doesn’t, the Steelers will likely be watching the Divisional round from home.