Yes, I realize Le’Veon Bell was spectacular in his regular season debut, Sunday night. I also know the defense stepped up in a big way and, from start to finish, the Steelers’ 43-14 stomping of the Chiefs at Heinz Field was a total team effort.
But you and I both know who would be getting most of the blame if Pittsburgh was 2-2 after four games, instead of a more elite 3-1 (other than the coach, obviously): the quarterback, namely Ben Roethlisberger.
Of course, it would have been hard to blame you for, well, blaming Roethlisberger after another weak performance, what with his semi-erratic play in Week 2, followed by his totally erratic play in Week 3.
In-fact, following Pittsburgh’s first offensive series Sunday night in-which Roethlisberger seemed a bit off-the-mark with his passes, my friend texted, “Ben has looked off for 3 weeks.”
But literally seconds later, Roethlisberger found a totally wide-open Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 31-yard touchdown, and it was on-the-mark city from there.
If you’re a fan of deadly efficiency, Roethlisberger gave you that, as he completed 21 of 27 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns (the fifth time he’s thrown for at least five touchdowns during his career).
I’m not much of an expert on reading coverages, but according to NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth (is it okay to admit I admire his work?), the Chiefs were playing man-to-man in the secondary.
Now, I may not know how to spot man-to-man when I’m sitting in my living room, watching a game on TV, but I sure know my hometown team’s starting quarterback. And if there’s one thing Ben Roethlisberger enjoys more than continuing to play in 30-point blow outs (either way), it’s man-to-man coverage.
Roethlisberger went about exploiting that coverage on his very first pass of the game, actually, when he hit Sammie Coates for 48 yards.
From there, naturally, No. 7’s yards per pass attempt average went down, but not by much. Roethlisberger averaged 11.1 yards per attempt, which is kind of insane, but indicative of stepping on a team when it’s down.
Just three plays after Spencer Ware’s first quarter fumble was recovered at the Chiefs’ 32-yard line, Roethlisberger found Heyward-Bey for the aforementioned touchdown.
In-addition to quickly turning Ware’s fumble into eight points, Roethlisberger parlayed Jarvis Jones’ interception and 20-yard return into seven, when he found Antonio Brown for a four-yard touchdown one play later to make it 15-0.
Two plays after a 23-yard punt by Dustin Colquitt set his offense up at the Kansas City 40, Roethlisberger found Brown 38 yards away for his third touchdown pass of the first quarter to give his team an historic 22-0 lead (most points the franchise has ever scored in the first quarter, believe it or not).
Roethlisberger’s performance Sunday night was the perfect example of why opportunistic defenses have always been so vital to Super Bowl success.
Yes, turnovers are vital to Super Bowl success, but you also need a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback to accept those takeaways (and other advantages) and use them to snuff the life out of opponents.
Want to know the difference between a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and one who has never even played in that game?
In Week 3, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was gifted with eight takeaways by his defense in a 24-3 victory over the Jets. The three-touchdown win looks good at first glance, but not when you consider that two of those eight turnovers were taken directly to the house by the defense, and that Kansas City’s offense only produced 10 additional points in 10 offensive series.
Maybe the reason takeaways have always been vital to Super Bowl success is because they’ve usually been gifted to passers named Starr, Namath, Griese, Staubach, Bradshaw, Montana, Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger, etc, etc.
In other words, if you hand a bunch of takeaways (and other opportunities) to a quarterback who is destined for Canton, he’s going to know what to do with them in a very big way.
As NBC pointed out during its broadcast on Sunday, Roethlisberger’s 300-yard performance was the 47th of his career (regular season), which is light years ahead of Smith, who only has six despite playing just one less season.
You can talk about power rankings all you want, but just look at the quarterbacks if you want to gauge which teams truly have a chance to go all the way in 2016.
Tom Brady is the best in the NFL, but Roethlisberger is nipping right at his heels. And, as I’ve said before, it doesn’t really matter where you rank the truly exceptional quarterbacks; the important thing is that a team has one.
Again, everyone stepped up Sunday night and put on a performance indicative of a Super Bowl-caliber team. However, let’s not kid ourselves; it was a Super Bowl-worthy performance because the quarterback was equipped with championship credentials, and he knew how to lift the play of his team to a totally elite level.