Ben Roethlisberger’s play during the Steelers’ shocking three-game losing streak after an 11-0 start to the 2020 NFL season isn’t just a December slump. It’s confirmation that Pittsburgh will have a short stint in the AFC playoffs due to its quarterback’s limitations.
What’s scary about Roethlisberger hitting his lowest point in Monday night’s terrible 27-17 loss to the Bengals (3-10-1) is the fact that it didn’t surprise many. Big Ben’s small number (20 of 38 passes, 170 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 73.4 points, 4.4 yards per attempt) came up against what was the league’s No. 22 pass defense.
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Monday marked the fifth straight game in which Roethlisberger scored below 90.0, making him a below par QB compared to the rest of the league starters. Since the Bengals collected 333 yards and four touchdowns in Week 10, the downstream pass limits that have existed all season have caught up with him in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time.
This time against Cincinnati, Roethlisberger was almost as bad as he was in the Week 13 loss to Washington, and he was actually worse in the Week 14 loss to Buffalo.
It’s not all about him. The racing game had a better performance thanks to substitute Benny Snell Jr., replacing injured and ineffective James Conner, but he was unreliable. There were bad roads, crashes and fumbles from Roethlisberger’s receivers, and Roethlisberger admitted to disconnecting from Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool.
The Steelers are stuck with a compressed passing game. The Bengals weren’t afraid of being burned deeply and therefore were aggressive in taking on Roethlisberger. They forced him to be precise on intermediate to deep shots. He wasn’t. In the absence of a legitimate running game, there is no real ability to facilitate field throws through action play.
Roethlisberger did his best to get the ball out quickly to avoid hits. But it’s no secret that the Steelers’ offense is now about short passes. As talented as Johnson, Smith-Schuster and Claypool are, it’s hard to open up and play consistently when defenses can feel more comfortable squeezing them and hitting them in tight cover.
In his first 13 games this season, Roethlisberger averaged just 6.8 expected aerial yards per attempt, or average target depth. This ranked 29th in the league. The great passing games are not there regularly either; the Steelers entered Week 15 tied for 28th place with just 18 passes for 25 yards or more.
Either way, from the eye test to the statistical evidence, Roethlisberger has been much poorer than the bloated MVP contender he was mid-season.
The Steelers and Roethlisberger don’t have a fitness game in Week 16 – they will face the Colts 10-4 and their strong zonal defense. Then they have to play the confident Browns 10-4 in Week 17. There is a real possibility that this team, which once had a perfect season, could freely fall into a six-game losing streak, including a one and a half. a. made in the AFC playoffs.
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The Colts, Browns, Ravens, Dolphins, Bills, Titans and Chiefs are all playing better than the Steelers right now. After their performance against the Bengals, it’s hard to trust them winning against any of these teams in any round. Roethlisberger won’t suddenly go back on his two Super Bowl winning innings when he was younger and less worn.
Roethlisberger has said he wants to return for the 2021 season. The Steelers may be forced to pay the price for him until their eventual elimination this season, but they can’t afford to stay with him next year.
Roethlisberger will carry a ridiculous salary cap of $ 41.25 million in what would be his 39-year season. The capital-strapped Steelers would have to restructure his deal to keep it, but it’s not worth doing as it will produce a low return on investment. The Steelers are expected to eat $ 22.25 million of dead money if they trade or release Roethlisberger early in the league’s new year. But they would also save $ 19 million to hit the cap.
After choosing not to find and hide Roethlisberger’s true successor, the Steelers must tap into a solid QB class in the 2021 draft and roll with this first-round rookie like they did with Roethlisberger 16 years ago.
The AFC is all about young guns in the most important position right now. The Steelers got their best with Roethlisberger, knowing that his leadership alone could help win many games given how strong their defense is. But in the end, his death was bound to be a handicap. The Steelers’ struggles cannot be separated from the collapse of Roethlisberger. This relationship should put Pittsburgh on the path to a difficult breakup with him.