The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen better days than they are currently experiencing. The black-and-gold have dropped back-to-back games for the first time since 2016, after losing to the Broncos and Chargers in consecutive weeks. Now they turn their attention to another AFC West opponent, the Oakland Raiders, in Week 14.
Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how the reality of the 2018 Steelers is how Ben Roethlisberger is the straw which stirs the proverbial drink. The team will go as Big Ben goes, and this theory has held up to be true throughout the regular season — and will be intensified with the absence of James Conner in the short term.
Let’s get to the news:
Ben Roethlisberger’s arm more important than ever for Steelers
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
James Conner is out, and so is any semblance of a running game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That sentence isn’t cemented in fact, but it is the perception of an offense preparing to play its first game this season without its starting running back.
Behind 15th-year veteran Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers already were throwing the ball at a historic rate this season. Why would that strategy change without their top runner against the 2-10 Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum?
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on Thursday insisted the Steelers, minus the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher, won’t abandon the ground game against the Raiders, whose run defense is tied for the worst in the NFL this season.
“We’re going to still address it as trying to be as balanced as we can, run when we can run,” Fichtner said. “It all comes down to efficiency.”
Despite Conner’s 909 yards rushing, the Steelers rank No. 27 in attempted runs and No. 29 in rushing yards. They have averaged 28.8 points per game — No. 4 in the league — based largely on Roethlisberger’s right arm.
Roethlisberger leads the NFL in passing attempts and yardage. But with the Steelers losing back-to-back games when Roethlisberger combined for 101 passes and barely winning one in Jacksonville when he put the ball in the air 47 times, the question is whether the Steelers are passing too much and running too little.
Conner had 15 carries, his highest total in four games, before he sprained his ankle late in the Steelers’ 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Roethlisberger had 45 passing attempts.
“I thought we were moving in that direction (of balance) the other night, but we got a couple of costly penalties that set us back,” Fichtner said. “We’re still going to force it and keep working on it. We’ve got capable runners.”
Rookie fifth-rounder Jaylen Samuels and veteran Stevan Ridley are expected to share the running back duties against the Raiders — and potentially beyond if Conner’s injury keeps him out multiple weeks.
“Nothing changes with Jaylen or Ridley in there, absolutely nothing at all for us,” guard Ramon Foster said. “We’re going to be a group of guys (on the offensive line that says), ‘Hey, this falls on our backs. We’re gonna get this done, and that’s that’ whether we’re running it 12 times or we are running it 22 times.
“The volume we get, maybe we get more yards, too. … If Ben wants to throw it, or if we are in a better situation where we have 500 yards passing, that’s fine, too. It’s all about getting a win.”
Ryan Switzer at home in the slot with the Steelers
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Ben Roethlisberger isn’t concerned about the physical stature of his slot receivers, which is a good thing for Ryan Switzer.
At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Switzer is one of the smallest players on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. But he possesses the quality that matters most to his quarterback.
“When you play in the slot, it’s really about the size of your heart, truthfully,” Roethlisberger said, “because it’s a different animal in there.”
Switzer has shown he is not afraid to go into the lion’s den when he runs routes across the middle. And he doesn’t shy away from contact with much bigger linebackers and safeties. Witness the play with 5:14 remaining in the Steelers’ 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers when Switzer was sent to the ground by jarring hit to his chin from linebacker Jatavis Brown.
The hit, which drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, knocked Switzer from the game and put him in concussion protocol. But Switzer returned to practice Wednesday and is preparing to be back in the slot Sunday when the Steelers visit the Oakland Raiders.
When the Steelers exchanged low-round draft picks with the Raiders in August to acquire Switzer, they filled a gap on their kick and punt return units. But Switzer has emerged as a do-everything player for the Steelers on offense. He had a career-high 67 receiving yards two week ago in Denver when he played a season-high 52 snaps. For the season, he’s caught 29 passes for 223 yards and one touchdown.
In addition to catching passes from the slot, Switzer also has taken handoffs in the backfield and apparently even gotten some work at quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner revealed Thursday that Switzer is the emergency quarterback in the event of a game-day injury to Roethlisberger and backup Joshua Dobbs.
“He understands his role in that regard, too,” Fichtner said. “That goes back to his mindset. It’s hard because he would tell you, and he likes to continually tell you, he was one time maybe the all-time leading rusher in the state of West Virginia high school football.
“So he thinks he can do everything and I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re little. Those guys are big. I don’t want you up in there too often.’ But he’s more than willing and because he’s capable, we’ll have some fun with him in certain things.”
A two-time West Virginia player of the year at George Washington High School in Charleston, Switzer also was a prolific receiver at North Carolina, which he was quick to remind reporters this week when asked about his emergence in the slot with the Steelers.
Switzer never believed that the Steelers traded for him just for his return skills.
“They didn’t have to tell me. I expected that,” he said. “I don’t just return kicks and punts for a living. I was an all-ACC guy in college as a receiver.”
What will it take for Steelers to break Oakland losing streak?
By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
On the Friday “Breakfast With Benz” podcast, I’m joined by Chris Townsend of the Raiders Radio Network. We preview Sunday’s game for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Oakland.
The “Black Hole” has been a house of horrors for the Steelers. But Chris doesn’t seem to think that is going to matter much this time around.
LISTEN: Tim Benz, Chris Townsend break down Steelers-Raiders matchup
From a tactical standpoint, we talk about trying to stop Raiders tight end Jared Cook. There’s one guy Ben Roethlisberger should avoid on the Oakland defense. And we perhaps find one ray of optimism for the 2-10 Silver and Black.
Chris also gets into the pending move to Las Vegas. The Martavis Bryant trade debacle comes up. And why has year one under Jon Gruden gone so wrong?