Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
After any difficult loss, especially those with serious playoff implications, everyone starts playing the blame game; even quarterbacks. Perhaps the one in Pittsburgh should put some of it on himself.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers walked off the field in defeat after losing to an overtime field goal by the Dallas Cowboys in week 15, frustrations boiled over through poignant comments with accusatory tones. None were heard louder than Ben Roethlisberger, as his seemed to be aimed directly at his offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. While Roethlisberger's feelings on one particular play and series could be rationally argued either way, no one left more question marks on the field than Roethlisberger himself.
Certainly, when looking for isolated, individual plays to indict, Antonio Brown is a name that stands out. His fumble at mid-field during a punt return cost the Steelers a chance to add to their seven point lead, and inspired the Cowboys to turn good field position into a touchdown, tying the game. Momentum visibly swung away from the Steelers sideline, but there had still been plenty of time to correct one mistake.
The weight of his error definitely affected Brown through the rest of the game, as he made a couple more mental errors as the game played out; but none of them should have been game-losers.
Fingers can also be pointed towards the inexperienced men expected to keep a top-ranked pass defense superior. Josh Victorian was attacked repeatedly, and while he played respectably for an undrafted rookie; he still was not Ike Taylor. The Cowboys receivers physically outmatched the Steelers smaller corners, making Tony Romo the first 300 yard passer against the Steelers defense since Joe Flacco, last season. However, despite the struggles of the young men forced into action by injuries, the Steelers defense gave it's offense plenty of opportunity to win the game.
While cases can be made for many players to have been accomplices to their demise, none deserve the scarlet letter treatment more than Roethlisberger.
When Ben wasn't his normal, crisp self in week 14 versus the San Diego Chargers, he was given the benefit of the doubt. He hadn't played since falling awkwardly during a sack by the Kansas City Chiefs in week 10, causing him to miss the following three weeks. Rust was to be expected.
But even after another week of practice, in Dallas there was no cape to be found under Clark Kent's suit; only a mere mortal.
Roethlisberger finished the game with yet another admirable statistical line. He completed 24 of his 40 passes, for 339 yards with 2 TDs, but it was his one interception that added a loss to the Steelers record. Few excuses could be made as he tried to hit Mike Wallace on an out pattern, but threw the ball well behind Wallace allowing Brandon Carr to make a great individual play on the ball, securing the Dallas victory. Coordinators be damned, nobody threw that ball but Ben, and for once his receiver could not be blamed for the results of the target.
The Steelers receivers have not done their quarterbacks many favors this year, as they've dropped open passes and fumbled catches. Emmanuel Sanders did both on one play, most likely the same play he suffered his rib injury. However, the receivers played well overall against Dallas, outside of struggling to get separation from their defenders.
Roethlisberger seemed to often be under pressure, although when he literally had over eight seconds at time to find a receiver, it becomes difficult to blame an offensive line for failure to execute, especially when that line had two rookies [David DeCastro, Kelvin Beachum] and one veteran starting in a brand new position [Ramon Foster]. Obviously, more can be asked of them, but they gave as much as can be expected from that much inexperience.
Roethlisberger has no such defense. He has plenty of experience, with a career record to prove it. His arm strength was brought into question after having his arm immobilized as he recovered, however he has been throwing and practicing for the past two weeks. He did underthrow Wallace on the 60 yard completion, but it was still a 60 yard completion. His arm strength seemed to meet the standard, yet he failed to complete passes on numerous occasions, skipping balls to open receivers.
If physical degradation is to be expected during extended medical absences, some mental should also. Ben showed some old bad habits, as he held on the ball for what felt like hours at times. He looked indecisive. He stared down receivers. He would look to open checkdown receivers, only to look back downfield and scramble for a few more moments before finally being sacked, flushed, or throwing the ball away.
Ben took exception to Haley's lack of no huddle. Ben probably felt strongly about using it, because it allows him to dictate the offense to what the opponent puts on the field. However, when the no huddle was deployed; Ben misjudged its proper use. On 3rd and Shorts, he repeatedly sent multiple receivers deep; leaving one or two possible pass catchers amongst a slew of Cowboy linebackers and safeties.
It's become apparent that even though Roethlisberger and Haley show a willingness to work together in benefit of the offense, they obviously have differing views on how success is achieved. The Steelers offensive attack almost appears schizophrenic at times. One second we're a power running team, accented with quick slants and bubble screens. The next instant we're a deep ball passing team, with little use for running backs outside of pass blocking and draw plays on 3rd and forevers.
As the Steelers prepare to welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to Heinz Field in week 16, there will be zero room for error. Another mistake ridden loss will eliminate any hopes the Steelers had of making a splash in the offseason.
Perhaps Roethlisberger should stop trying to figure out who is responsible for losses in the past, and instead figure out how to be responsible for winning in the present, and the future.