The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how Ben Roethlisberger’s comments directed at James Washington, Antonio Brown and Randy Fichtner shouldn’t just be swept aside as another ‘Drama Ben’ moment.
Let’s get to the news:
Kevin Gorman: When Big Ben speaks, Steelers should listen
By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ben Roethlisberger is right, even if it sounds wrong.
Fifteen seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and two Super Bowl championships in a Hall of Fame-caliber career has earned him the choice of whether to be complimentary or critical of his teammates.
“I would hope that they would understand that as the quarterback and the captain that I have the right to do those things,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t feel like I abuse that situation, so I don’t think it’s an issue.”
Of course, it comes with the caveat that Big Ben has to first be willing to point the finger at the man in the mirror before he puts anyone on blast. And that’s something he’s refused to do since the Denver debacle.
That’s why Roethlisberger publicly ripping everyone from receivers Antonio Brown and James Washington to the play-calling of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner this week has raised eyebrows — even inside the Steelers locker room.
“You take it for what it is, man,” Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “Everybody has different ways to encourage guys or to get guys going. You hear what he has to say, whether it’s in front of you or in the media, and you just try to get better because each and every day is a battle for every guy in here to prove themselves, not only to the coaching staff but to your teammates.”
It’s also an accountability issue, one that starts with Roethlisberger. The Steelers lost to the Denver Broncos on an interception in the end zone, a pass for which Big Ben blamed everything but himself. It was all excuses, from Maurkice Pouncey’s snap and block to Brown’s drifting in the back of the end zone. Not the decision or the throw.
It’s instructive to remember Roethlisberger, whether it’s in his weekly radio show on 93.7 FM or meeting with the media, rarely says anything without intent. There’s always an underlying message, a method of motivation.
“Being around for a long time with a lot of different players, you have to know how to motivate different guys in different ways,” Roethlisberger said. “I think that’s part of being a leader, being a captain, just understanding players. Sometimes you just grab them off to the side, and sometimes you have to be honest with them.”
Remember that Roethlisberger, two games removed from a perfect passer rating, completed 41 of 56 passes for 462 yards – only to have tight end Xavier Grimble fumble out of the end zone, Washington drop a pass in his hands and James Conner fumble deep in Denver territory. Maybe this is Big Ben’s way of saying that game should have never come down to the final play.
It’s one thing to hold a rookie like Washington to his second-round pedigree, another to blame Brown for his route running on the final play. But to suggest not only is JuJu Smith-Schuster a No. 1 receiver but so are tight end Vance McDonald, slot receiver Ryan Switzer and Conner had to be designed to get a rise out of All-Pro Brown.
Not that Brown needs any motivation. He carries his sixth-round selection status like a boulder on his shoulder. But the Steelers are at their best when Ben and Brown are clicking, like they did against Carolina. Something in their timing is off, as evidenced by connecting on only 58.2 percent of targeted passes. Brown was targeted on nine of Roethlisberger’s 12 interceptions.
“Maybe it’s his way of challenging guys, letting them know we’re not perfect as a team,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “I guess, more or less, it’s that he sees the opportunity. Whether he’s talking to them directly or through the media, we need to realize that we’ve got to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Why JuJu Smith-Schuster is outpacing Antonio Brown
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
The script is becoming all too familiar.
The opposing team game plans to stop Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, leaving Brown to answer postgame questions about teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster’s big play.
“The safety was on my side,” Brown said matter-of-factly when asked about Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown Sunday against Denver’s single-high-safety defensive set.
Smith-Schuster’s ascension has had a direct impact on Brown’s production. While Smith-Schuster surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season thanks to his 189-yard display against the Broncos, Brown -- with 71 catches and 874 yards -- is on pace for his lowest yards total since 2012.
It sounds crazy given Brown’s greatness, but is Smith-Schuster the top option for the Steelers, at least right now?
Brown is targeted on 25.4 percent of his routes compared to 31 percent last year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 12 fourth-quarter throws Sunday at Denver, five targets went to Smith-Schuster compared with four for Brown.
Roethlisberger went as far as to say on his weekly radio show that he wished he threw to Smith-Schuster four times at the goal line and that Brown should have run a “flatter” route on the third-down interception over the middle.
But much of this is by defensive design given Brown’s top spot on the scouting report, according to Broncos coach Vance Joseph.
“I’ve been in games where he’s beaten me single-handedly,” Joseph said. “The plan was to take him away, stop the run game as best we could with a seven-man box and just deal with 19 the best we could.”
This is a tough position for a player who is as competitive as they come and sometimes shows it with sideline flare-ups. But even though Brown looks like he hasn’t lost a step, Roethlisberger has stated publicly that he didn’t want to force the ball into double coverages this season.
Defenses like to follow Brown closely with a corner and a safety shading over the top. Brown has seen press coverage on 54 of his 122 targets this season compared with 26 press-man targets for Smith-Schuster. The good news is that Brown has five touchdowns on those plays. The bad news is that 57 percent of those passing attempts were incomplete, including six interceptions.
Ben Roethlisberger going to keep throwing despite interceptions
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Ben Roethlisberger makes no apologies for his 12 interceptions, tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick for second most in the NFL.
”Sometimes those things happen. I’m a quarterback that is going to go out and sling it,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show Tuesday. “You talk about gunslinger or whatever you want to talk about. I’m not going to worry about interceptions. I hate doing them. They bother me. But I’m going to go out and play my game and try to help us win football games.”
Roethlisberger is putting up prolific numbers for the 7-3-1 Steelers, ranking second in the league with 3,664 passing yards and tied for seventh with 24 touchdowns. But he isn’t afraid to take chances, resulting in 55 interceptions in 52 regular-season games dating to 2015.
He’s one of five quarterbacks with at least 50 interceptions during that span, including the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blake Bortles (57 in 59 games), Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Jameis Winston (55 in 51), New York Giants’ Eli Manning (50 in 58) and Sunday’s opponent in Heinz Field, and Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers (50 in 59).
But Roethlisberger has the best record by far among that bunch, going 37-14-1 in those games, with 102 touchdowns. Only New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (44) has more wins since 2015.
The Steelers threw the ball 56 times compared with 16 runs Sunday, with Roethlisberger completing 41 passes for 462 yards. Roethlisberger said the game plan dictated more passing and the team didn’t need more run-pass balance.
The Steelers were in control Sunday in Denver with 527 offensive yards but lost 24-17 after Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris intercepted a Roethlisberger pass at the goal line with 1:03 left. Roethlisberger wasn’t counting on Harris being near the ball, but the lineman got blocked back into the end zone. Roethlisberger called the play “kinda crazy” and flukish. Corner Chris Harris Jr.was in the line of the ball while covering Antonio Brown, and Roethlisberger said he told Brown he needed to run a “flatter” route to avoid getting undercut.
On an interception by Chris Harris earlier in the game, Roethlisberger said Brown was being held.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he’s concerned with his team’s minus-7 turnover ratio the past two weeks but not with Roethlisberger’s decision-making.
”Ben is just part of it. He’s not solely responsible for our inability to maintain possession of the ball,” Tomlin said. “He wasn’t carrying the ball into the end zone and fumbling it for a touchback. He just needs to continue to be thoughtful about the preservation of the ball, like he always is, and understand the responsibility that comes with being our signal-caller. I don’t see any issues in that area. But us, collectively, need to do a better job.”