By now, people have probably seen Reggie Nelson's interception of Rothlisberger ad nauseum. Obviously, it was a terrible decision by Ben. At that point in the game, Ben should relegate himself to high percentage throws. The only way that Cincinnati wins the game is if the Steelers give it to them. That is exactly what happened. Sadly, it wasn't the only point during the game where Ben's inadequacies cost the Steelers dearly.
At first, I was very skeptical about this call. The Steelers had been running the ball well during this drive. However, the Steelers catch the Bengals off guard by using run personnel (there is a tight end and running back in the game) in an empty formation. Pre-snap, Ben has two great options. Chris Rainey is being covered by Rey Maualuga one on one, and the alignment of Adam Jones on the outside of Emmanuel Sanders begs for the Steelers to run a quick slant. Amazingly, the Steelers take advantage of neither. Sanders does not run a slant, and I'm not sure what the heck Rainey is doing. Because of what Antonio Brown is running, one can assume that Rainey is supposed to be running a rub route with Brown. If he did, Rainey would be wide open. There is no way that a linebacker, especially, Maualuga is able to react.
With all of that being said, the Steelers should still end up in great shape. Mike Wallace and Heath Miller do run a rub route and Miller is open immediately. Ben looks at Miller initially, but inexplicably does not throw the ball. Why Ben does not throw the ball is a mystery. At worst, it's a first down. Miller probably scores, or ends up inside of the two yard line.
Even with this poor decision, the Steelers can still make a play. Wallace settles down on the goal line and does a nice job boxing out the defender. Apparently, Ben was just as surprised as I was that Wallace did such a great job of using his body in this route because he didn't throw the ball to him either.
Amazingly, the Steelers had four legitimate chances to score on this play. Maybe Ben didn't check to the slant because he didn't want to bring the coverage to Miller. That's reasonable; but what is vexing is that Ben looks at Miller immediately post-snap, but doesn't throw the ball.
If Ben would've shown a little more discretion when throwing to Miller earlier in the game, the Steelers would've won.
Because of Miller's motion, Ben knows it is man. Therefore, Ben can't say he never saw Leon Hall. He doesn't have to read the drops of the secondary to see who has the hook area. Ben throws the ball as if he is surprised at Hall's technique.
Ben can still make this throw. If he throws the ball low and away from Miller, it is probably a completion. That's how Hines Ward made most of his catches last year. Without the speed to separate from the defenders, Ben could throw him open by placing the ball low and away.
However, Ben does not have to thread this needle. Because he knows that the defense is in man, he should see that Brown (like Sanders in the previous example) is open because of the defender's alignment. The corner is playing off, and Brown is running an out route.
Also, David Paulson is being covered by Vontez Burflict. Burflict is in a trail position, which means Paulson is open. If Ben leads Paulson with the throw, Paulson has a lot of green in front of him. Paulson has seven catches this year, and he had 31 last year at Oregon. He is not a neophyte when it comes to catching the football. Moreover, last time Burflict was timed in the 40 yard dash, he was timed with a sundial.
With all of that being said, probably the most distressing part is the failure to throw the ball to Brown. My feelings toward Heath Miller as a football player are second to no man, but Ben sees that he is covered by Hall. Why tempt fate with that throw when the throw to Brown, because of Newman's alignment, should be a simple, high-percentage throw?
Of course, maybe the issue is the fact that in the current offense, there are no high percentage throws.