The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they are currently experiencing. The black-and-gold have dropped three straight games, after losing to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders in consecutive weeks. Now they turn their attention to another AFC opponent, the New England Patriots, in Week 15.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how the style of play, and the way he plays the position, is a reason why Ben Roethlisberger is the last of a dying breed of NFL quarterbacks.
When you look at the current landscape, it is riddled with throwers who are pinpoint accurate with the football, but don’t often trust themselves to just go out and sling the rock around the yard.
That is what Brett Favre did, and it is how Ben Roethlisberger plays. Some like it, some hate it, but it is true when you realize Roethlisberger could be the last of these “gunslinger” types.
Let’s get to the news:
Gunslinger ‘artist’: The risk and reward of Ben Roethlisberger
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Very few humans can shuffle frantically to the left to avoid a sack and rip a fastball 45 yards between two Los Angeles Chargers defenders for an Antonio Brown touchdown the way Ben Roethlisberger did in Week 13.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner had that play fresh in his mind as he described the eye-popping -- and sometimes head-scratching -- duality of Roethlisberger’s confidence as a thrower.
“Sometimes you want to say, ‘Where did that come from?’” Fichtner said. “And then other times you’re like, ‘Where did that come from?’ I mean, it’s just a matter of how you say it.”
As the Steelers try to strengthen their playoff hopes with a win over the New England Patriots on Sunday, they will place the football in the hands of a quarterback who wins, dazzles and throws interceptions like few others.
In a new era of NFL passers that features human rifles (Patrick Mahomes), RPO wizards (Deshaun Watson) and other 7-on-7 disciples, Roethlisberger might be the last true extension of Brett Favre, whose penchant for picks and big plays embodied the throwback “gunslinger” mantra.
It’s a mentality by which Roethlisberger identifies every Sunday.
“I’m a quarterback that is going to go out and sling it,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show with 93.7 The Fan on Nov. 28. “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.”
Two different coaches interviewed for this story brought up the Favre comparison unprompted. One’s a Hall of Famer, the other will surely become one after retirement.
As a result of that risk-taking, Roethlisberger navigates two worlds: One with the greats and one with Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles.
Roethlisberger ranks top five in the NFL in wins (47), touchdown passes (138), passing yards (21,187) and interceptions (65) in the last five seasons.
Since 2015, six quarterbacks have thrown at least 50 interceptions -- Bortles (57), Roethlisberger (56), Winston (56), Cam Newton (52), Eli Manning (51) and Philip Rivers (50). All of them played at least 50 games during that span.
Roethlisberger did his damage in 54 games, good enough for 1.03 interceptions per game. Only Winston (1.06) throws more interceptions per game among that 50-50 club. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would be in that group with an average of 1.09, but he has played only 35 games during that span, with 38 interceptions.
This season, Roethlisberger ranks tied for second among NFL quarterbacks with 13 interceptions in 13 games, but he also leads in passing attempts with 546 and is second in yards with 4,227.
The interceptions aren’t such a bad thing when viewed through the prism of pure production and wins.
Only Tom Brady (45) and Newton (38) have more regular-season wins than Roethlisberger (37) since 2015. Russell Wilson is tied with Roethlisberger in wins but has played in seven more games. Drew Brees is right behind them with 36.
The way Fichtner sees it, Roethlisberger just needs a bigger canvas than most.
Carter’s Classroom: Safeties must (finally) prove worth
By: Chris Carter, DKPittsburghSports
Last year when the Steelers lost to the Patriots 24-27 in a game where Tom Brady led his team to 11 points in the fourth quarter, many questioned the Steelers’ personnel and game plan. Rob Gronkowski took over the game with 168 yards on nine catches and took away the Steelers’ chance at home-field advantage in the playoffs.
A year later, the Steelers face the Patriots while trying to hold onto their slim division lead. But their recent struggles highlight similar trends that led to their demise last season:
The Steelers’ overhaul at safety was a huge focus, removing all but Sean Davis from the roster and adding Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds in the offseason. That has helped them to become a defense that’s ranked 12th against the pass, allowing 233.9 passing yards per game.
But those rankings would be significantly higher were it not for the letdowns by the defense in the team’s 3-game losing streak to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders.
I wrote about Keith Butler‘s schemes helping against the defense’s weaknesses last month, when the Steelers ranked 7th in pass defense with an allowed average of 227.2 yards. During the Steelers’ 6-game win streak they gave up an average of 131.83 passing yards per game. That number almost doubles when you calculate the average of passing yards in the losing streak at 256.33.
Sometimes it’s not about scheme, but about execution and the need of ballhawks when it comes to breakdowns in pass defense.
Initially when I looked at the tape for the Raiders game, I attributed the final touchdown pass to Derek Carrier a mistake by Hilton for not establishing inside leverage on Carrier and allowing such an easy cutback. But the more I look at the formation and the play, it seems Terrell Edmunds was supposed to help Hilton and not double Jordy Nelson.
(To read more, click the link in the headline...)
Kevin Gorman: Steelers safety Sean Davis ready for rematch with Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski
By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
This is the NFL, Sean Davis said, and there are no mismatches. The Pittsburgh Steelers safety was repeating a Mike Tomlin mantra: The best team doesn’t win. The team that plays the best wins the game.
“I take that to heart,” Davis said. “That means anyone can get beat.”
Davis speaks from experience about mismatches and even more expertly about getting beat, especially against the New England Patriots. The Steelers safety wasn’t just repeatedly beaten by Rob Gronkowski last December but was mocked afterward when the Patriots tight end pointed at Davis before breaking into a robot touchdown dance.
“I’ve grown from that,” Davis said. “I’ve become a better player.”
Davis had nowhere to go but up, as he reached his nadir against the Patriots. The Steelers had a 24-19 lead with 2:06 remaining when New England took over at its own 23. On the first play, Tom Brady’s pass was tipped by Cameron Heyward but Davis dropped what would have been an interception. Davis said afterward he felt “terrible” for “letting a win slip out of your hands.”
It only got worse from there.
Gronkowski caught back-to-back 26-yard passes, then a 17-yard shoestring catch late in the fourth quarter to set up Dion Lewis’ go-ahead touchdown. Gronkowski then beat Davis on a corner fade for a two-point conversion in the Patriots’ 27-24 victory at Heinz Field.
By that point, you almost had to feel sorry for Davis. If it wasn’t bad enough that CBS color analyst Tony Romo highlighted their matchup by circling the single coverage on the screen before the two-point play, Jim Nantz did the trick by proclaiming “He’s killing Davis!”
Welcome to the NFL, kid.
Gronkowski’s nine-catch, 168-yard game has hung over Davis like a black cloud for almost a year. But Davis has moved from strong safety to free safety, where he serves as the last line of defense, so it’s unlikely he will cover Gronkowski in the same fashion as last season.
“That’s football,” said Davis, who did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. “That’s been lingering in this room and in the DB room, especially for me. I’m trying to get my run back. But it’s a little different this year. I’m going to be playing deep. I’m going to try to make sure those deep shots Gronk got on me last year he’s not going to get this year.”
Davis is far from alone in being busted up by Gronkowski, a 6-foot-6, 265-pounder who will go down in NFL history as a transcendent tight end. The Woodland Hills graduate has 39 receptions for 664 yards and eight touchdowns in six games against the Steelers, averaging 17.03 yards per catch and 110.7 per game.
But tight ends have tortured the Steelers all season, and Davis is taking it upon himself to be more assertive in his communication with the defense. Despite the secondary’s struggles during a three-game losing streak, the Steelers continue to express faith in Davis in deep coverage.
“We trust him,” Steelers slot cornerback Mike Hilton said. “We know what he’s capable of. That was a hard test he got put into last year, so we’re going to find ways to give him some help this year.”
Davis doesn’t lack for confidence. Even after the loss to the Patriots, he made these bold proclamations: “I ain’t scared of them. I ain’t scared of ‘Gronk.’ I ain’t scared of Brady. We’re all not. We’re going to see them again and run it back. They’re beatable. We had ’em. We’ve just got to do a better job of executing and put a dagger in ’em.”