Big Lead Sports Bar



COLTS (5-4) 24
STEELERS (6-3) 20

MOORE 24-57, 2 TD
WARD 9-116

It's hard to quantify the most frustrating aspect of Sunday's 24-20 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Was it the fact that it brings the Steelers back into a tie for the AFC North lead with Baltimore at 6-3? How about the angle that the Colts' final score (at 3:04 of the 4th) was their only lead of the day? Or maybe we're just feeling remorseful after watching such an opportunity for victory against a quality opponent slip through the hands of a team playing without Willie Parker, Lamarr Woodley, Heath Miller, and Marvel Smith?

Yep, there's second-guessing all around, and it will get uglier as the week goes on. It will undoubtedly start at the top, where the wisdom of playing a severely banged-up Ben Roethlisberger will be put under the microscope. How this loss affects Roethlisberger's psyche is another angle worth considering. He had a quarterback rating of 60, he threw some crucial interceptions, and from all accounts, is taking the loss very hard and fully on his shoulders.

I will be one of the voices wondering if it was wise to start Roethlisberger in this particular game, and I'm one of the most outspoken Roethlisberger advocates on the planet. I realize the importance of each and every contest, but he's clearly out of sync and not playing up to his own lofty standards. I'm not saying that Byron Leftwich should be the permanent starter, but if he has to play a game or two, it shouldn't be the end of the world (or the end of Ben's tenure as the starter).

I'm a big stat guy, and I'm looking at seven interceptions in the last two full games Roethlisberger's played (plus another inteception in the half he played at Washington). I know all of those aren't his fault, but the Steelers' record in those games? 0-2. Of course, his QB rating was 38 against the Giants, 15 against the Redskins, and 60 today against the Colts. So he's not totally blameless, either.

As we look for a scapegoat, of course Roethlisberger would be the first and biggest target, with Coach Tomlin running neck-and-neck with Ben. To clarify my point, I think it's noble of Roethlisberger to want to play whenever possible. He's personified the "team guy". But if he's playing hurt, and he's only going to get more banged up with each snap, I don't see how that's putting the team in the best possible position to win. As you know, I think Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But at what percentage is a damaged Ben better than a Byron Leftwich at 100 percent? 90, 80, 75%? Sometimes, I think he may not even be that healthy.

To further complicate things, he's playing behind a line that's mediocre on their best day, and playing without his top weapon at running back (and on Sunday, without his top tight end). I realize Mewelde Moore and Matt Spaeth are valuable contributors and they both played well, but they are not Willie Parker and Heath Miller. If they were, they would be the starters. This has to be factored into the equation.

It's a complex situation. All things are not equal. And there's no easy answer. Unfortunately for Mike Tomlin, he's going to be questioned - often - about how he's handled (and will handle) this conundrum. And how the Steelers adjust will determine how they finish their season.

Game Notes:

--To those of you who are bombarding me with emails in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's rough patch, thanks for your concern. I think I'll be OK. I want you to know that I regret nothing that I've ever stood up for related to Roethlisberger and will stand by my words. He's still the man, he's just banged up. I'm not going to jump off the bandwagon. That's called "2006 thinking" - you know, the last time a portion of Steeler fans said Roethlisberger stinks. Of course, he was coming off of a near-fatal motorcycle accident, an appendecomy on the eve of the season, and a concussion early in the season, but that's no excuse. None.

--That being said, let me point out the biggest weakness of my favorite QB: his ever-growing database of killer interceptions in big games. In the 2007-08 playoffs, he threw three against Jacksonville; he threw two in Super Bowl XL; and three in the 2004-05 AFC Championship. I'm not suggesting that yesterday was that important of a game. But sometimes, I think he has a Favreian tendencency to do to much. Of course, it's worth noting that those tendencies have also resulted in touchdowns. And no one's complaining then.

--If you think this has been Ben's worst stretch, think again. In his first three games of his injury-riddled 2006, his TD-INT ratios were 0-2, 0-3, and 0-2. After a two-game stretch where the Steelers inexplicably put up 83 points out of nowhere, he returned with four picks in the infamous Oakland game and three against Denver. My point is that when Roethlisberger's not healthy, he's just not the same. We've been here before. The Steelers' record when he fought through those injuries? 1-6.

--Specifically, let's go through a few of yesterday's missed opportunities: two Ike Taylor drops, including one that went for an early-game, momentum-changing touchdown; a Troy Polamalu dropped interception; and perhaps the biggest of all, consecutive stops of Mewelde Moore at the goal line. You can't settle for three points against the Colts.

--HUGE game by Hines Ward yesterday. Nine catches, 116 yards, and plenty of body blows absorbed. Is it me, or does he lead the league in "catches while falling backwards"?

--Matt Spaeth: 6 catches, 53 yards out of the tight end bullpen. That's more catches than an average Heath Miller afternoon.

--Give it up for Jared Retkofsky. Everyone said that no one appreciates the long snapper until he's hurt, so congratulations for not snapping the ball over Paul Ernster's head.

--Peyton Manning's final line: 21-40, 240 yards, 3 TDs. He clearly wasn't the Peyton Manning of yesteryear (as evidenced by 19 incompletions), but with the game on the line, he got it done, against the best defense in the league. Cut that meat.

--On the other hand, Joseph Addai had 34 yards on 12 carries. I wish the best of luck to any running back opponent of the Steelers, because you're going to need it.

--The Colts had not won in Pittsburgh since 1968. 1968! Let that sink in for a moment.

--Another 4:15 start next week against the 4-5 San Diego Chargers. Count on plenty of talk between now and then.

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AJ said...

Am I allowed to love Ben when he plays well and hate him when he sucks? I seem to have no middle ground for this guy. He is like the Pitt Panthers season/Steel Phantom of quarterbacks.

mondesishouse said...

Do you realize Pitt now has a one-game lead on the Steelers?

Charlie Hildbold said...

Once again we saw some AWFUL play from Max Starks...could this be the worst contract in NFL history? Quite possibly...he's absolute garbage

RedHawks Hockey said...

I don't understand why no one is criticizing Bruce Arians here. I feel like the first drive of every game is very methodical. Short passes to the sides. 15 yard routes across the middle. Power runs for 4 and 5 yards. And then after the first drive, it seems to me like the entire philosophy changes. It seems that the offense has a great first drive every game then changes everything and struggles. Why? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Chip said...

Arians calls plays in a vacuum. Nothing that happens before or after seems to affect his decision making process. A run nets 16 yards? Pass! A run nets -1 yards? Pass! TE wide open in the flat? Run! TE double covered in the flat? Run!

And I don't see how anybody can dump on Max Starks. Is he overpaid? Yes. But Marvel Smith is obviously done so who else would you want as a backup? Tony Hills?

Matthew said...

Perhaps the problem is Ben is really left handed.

okel dokel said...

Bottom line is Ben's two interceptions cost the team the game. However, it is easy to understand why the guy's play has deteriorated; he has been a piƱata for defenses around the league.

Redhawks Hockey brings up a good point about Bruce Arians' play calling. Frankly, I have no clue why they focus on these long developing plays when it is clear to everyone, except the Steeler brain trust, that they have major protection problems.

It is a shame that this defense is saddled with this pathetic offense. Some interceptions rather than tips would be nice, but they would have been non factors if we had not turned the ball over twice in our own territory.

RedHawks Hockey said...

"Frankly, I have no clue why they focus on these long developing plays when it is clear to everyone, except the Steeler brain trust, that they have major protection problems."

I couldn't agree with your contention more. I thought this was blatantly apparent against Philadelphia when Ben was under assault because all the receivers were running 20 yard patterns

Steve said...

The responses I've gotten in the various times I've talked with columnists and reporters regarding things like assistant coaches and coordinators, leads me to believe the reason no one (the local media) isn't mentioning Arians role in the Steelers offensive offense, is because they don't won't to hang a guy out to be fired. They seem to only go after key players and head coaches when there's an issue since they feel negative comments about them wouldn't lead to a firing. I agree that if Arians was called to task by the media, his days as the Steeler Offensive coordinator would be shorter lived. The Steelers organization would love nothing better than a scapegoat to blame for the poor performance of their star QB and young head coach even though I think Arians is a big reason and far from a scapegoat if canned. He's about as anti-Steeler football as you can get and I'm sure if he really had his way, the Steelers would be a west coast offense.