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Steelers Will Ultimately Go Where Roethlisberger Takes Them

The Steelers quarterback has yet to make the argument that he should at least still be in the conversation when the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are discussed.

photo by pittsburgh steelers | karl roser


If there’s a play that defines the Steelers’ first eight games, it’s the one that occurred early in the third quarter in Detroit.

First-and-10 from the Lions’ 24-yard line. Detroit rushes four and deploys five defensive backs against the Steelers’ three-wide receivers set. Darrius Heyward-Bey streaks from the left slot inside of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster toward the right corner in the back of the end zone. Detroit’s secondary ignores Heyward-Bey (it’s as if the Lions know Heyward-Bey hasn’t yet caught a pass from a quarterback). Ben Roethlisberger has more than adequate protection on his end.

“This can not be an easier pitch and catch,” NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth assesses.

Collinsworth said that right after Roethlisberger’s overthrow glanced off Heyward-Bey’s outstretched left hand and fell incomplete.

Another opportunity for a big play that got away.

Another field goal ultimately settled for in the red zone.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers.

They still managed to win the game on Sunday night at Ford Field, 20-15. They arrived at this week’s bye having won six times in their first eight games. And the context of a 6-2 record at the halfway mark shouldn’t be lost on a fan base that often lets expectation cloud perspective.

“Being 6-2 is really difficult in the NFL,” tight end Vance McDonald insisted.

McDonald’s 49ers went 2-14 last season, so he should know.

“It’s amazing to be sitting at 6-2,” added cornerback Joe Haden.

The Browns teams Haden played for the last two seasons went a combined 4-28, so Hayden should know, too.

The Steelers, of course, hold themselves to a higher standard than San Francisco and Cleveland. Which is why 6-2 can and must be dissected during the bye week in terms of what all that’s taken place means as it relates to eventually getting back to the AFC Championship Game and winning it this time.

And that process mostly comes down to this: They can be better, especially the quarterback.

Roethlisberger’s passer rating of 82.7 is closer to DeDhone Kizer’s worst-in-the-NFL mark of 51.1 than it is league-leader Alex Smith’s 115.4.

That number is skewered a bit because of the five-interceptions game Roethlisberger suffered against Jacksonville.

But even without that game, Roethlisberger hasn’t passed the eye test in terms of maintaining his spot on the top line in the NFL’s QB hierarchy.

He hasn’t made an argument that he should at least still be in the conversation when the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are discussed.

Roethlisberger’s wide receivers have failed him on many occasions, Martavis Bryant repeatedly and Eli Rogers as recently as in the end zone in the first quarter against the Lions. But Roethlisberger has also uncharacteristically misfired, as he did on multiple occasions on Sunday night.

The Jacksonville game aside, Roethlisberger has protected the football. He’s avoid sacks, stayed healthy and managed an offense overflowing with skill-position egos that all need to be fed.

He’s run the offense and he’s played winning football.

But as the Steelers have won, the deep-ball splash play has become mostly a memory.

And the little plays that turn into big ones have been completed with less frequency.

“There are some plays that have been really close, one way or the other,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley pointed out this week. “Maybe in the past or last year, some plays that we made, it might be a ball that hits ‘A.B.’ in stride that turns into a 50-, 60-yard touchdown is slightly off and is a 10-yard gain.”

Those are the plays Roethlisberger and the Steelers have to start making again in the season’s second half.

He’s more than capable of making them physically.  

And he’s been as engaged as ever, even after having contemplated retirement.

He just has to play better.

If he does, field goals will start to become touchdowns and nail-biters will turn into blowouts and we all might eventually look back at 6-2 as only the beginning.

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