Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
Questions surrounded the Steelers franchise quarterback's return after a three week absence. Perhaps those questions should have aimed for his readiness, and not just his health.
After surviving the past three weeks of backup quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger returned to action after suffering a rare, and almost fatal, injury in week 10 against the Kansas City Chiefs. While his numbers were arguably positive, his presence alone was not enough to lift the Pittsburgh Steelers over the San Diego Chargers in week 14.
Roethlisberger's final stat line read: 22-for-42 for 285 yards, with 3 TDs and 1 INT
While that line would be more than sufficient on most Sunday afternoons, it is not truthfully indicative of Roethlisberger's afternoon. Most of his yardage, and all three touchdowns, came in the second half as the Chargers played in a prevent defense, as they clung to a sizable lead.
Roethlisberger showed his rust as the game began, proving that chemistry between a passer and his receivers is something developed through repetition. However, Ben was not to blame for all of the offense's woes; his receivers didn't do him many favors in the first half, either.
Mike Wallace finished the game with an equally deceiving stat line, showing 7 catcjes for 112 yards with 2 TDs. However, it was his drop in the first half the brought the boo birds out in abundance. Wallace's quotes about focus were thrown back in his face, as his play looked anything but focused. He attempted to make amends by providing some plays in the second half, but the game was escaping the Steelers by that point.
On a pass to Antonio Brown that was ruled a lateral on the field, resulted in a defensive touchdown for San Diego. Whether or not a quick screen is a good idea when standing in your own endzone, Brown showed no awareness to the fact that the football was live, and the Chargers quickly pounced on the easy points. That was the Chargers second touchdown in 12 seconds.
Emmanuel Sanders suffered through an AC sprain, sustained from Week 13's contest in Baltimore. Jerricho Cotchery tried to return from multiple fractured ribs, missing time since week 11. Plaxico Burress technically got a start today, and provided a clutch catch early in the game; however, he has not been the impact the Steelers hoped he would be when they signed him after Cotchery suffered his injury. While each were the target of their share of incomplete pass attempts, the receivers weren't the only players contributing to the poor offensive play.
The best thing the offensive line did against the Chargers, was to give us a positive answer to one very important question: Can Ben Roethlisberger survive taking a hit, considering the concerns surrounding the nature of his injury. The offensive line gave plenty of chances for Ben to prove that his dislocated rib is no longer a fear, as Ben found himself on the move far more than Charlie Batch did in the previous game.
Willie Colon re-aggravated his knee injury, and had to leave the game. Maurkice Pouncey, who was having a shaky game at center as it was, moved to guard. He was replaced by Doug Legursky. However, the offensive line combination that allowed for 4 to 5 seconds of pocket time for Batch, struggled to give Ben half of that at times.
Perhaps the gameplan was asking too much of the returning quarterback. The Steelers opened the game starting four wide receivers. Haley obviously did not intend for Ben to pass over 40 times, but when the Steelers top pass defense was unable to limit Philip Rivers, the Steelers offense was forced to play catch-up.
Perhaps the lack of execution that plagued the entire Steelers roster on Sunday only amplified the rust Ben was trying to grind out. While many expected Roethlisberger to be in mid-season form, it is impossible to make up for three weeks in three days of practice.
Perhaps after another week of practice, Roethlisberger will be able to return to carrying the Steelers on his back, with his arm.