Ben Roethlisberger has received a lot of criticism over most of his career, deserved or not. For example, when the Pittsburgher Steelers fell to the Las Vegas Raiders last week, most people ran to blame Roethlisberger.
And while he is an easy figure to pin the blame on, party because he has been the face of the Steelers for 18-years, and party because he placed most of the blame for the loss against the Raiders on himself.
“Right now, my play is just not good enough,” Roethlisberger said. “If I play better, we have a chance to win the football game, so that loss, I’ll take that. I’ll apologize to the fans. For that home opener, they were awesome. And it’s disappointing we didn’t get that (win).”
Though Roethlisberger took the blame, that doesn’t mean he was the one at fault. Quite the opposite is true.
The Steelers Struggles Are Not Ben Roethlisberger‘s Fault
Ben Roethlisberger certainly did not play great in the loss versus the Raiders, he was not the reason that the Steelers lost the game. While most media pundits and fans are close to where the blame truly belongs, it does not lie at the feet of Roethlisberger. The men in front of him and keep him upright, however, are where the blame truly belongs for the loss against the Raiders and the Steelers offensive struggles as a whole over the past two weeks.
The Offensive Line Is Ben Roethlisberger’s Problem
The Steelers managed just 39 yards on 14 carries against the Raiders, who were coming in without Gerald McCoy who was lost for the season in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens. So, the Steelers offensive line would have one less challenge against a mostly less-than-stellar Raiders defensive front.
That was not the case whatsoever, with the Raiders defensive line imposing their will against the Steelers in both run defense and pass rush. And for (mostly Steelers fans) who want to say that Najee Harris was not effective Sunday, they are wrong. He totaled 81 yards and a touchdown on the day, including a 25-yard touchdown pass and a highlight-reel stiff-arm of Raiders safety Johnathan Abram.
The Steelers offensive line turned in highlight-reel plays too, just for the other team. They allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked twice and pressured 13 times. Roethlisberger clearly suffered from the pressure he was anticipating the whole game, which prevented him from throwing deep and forced the 39-year old quarterback to move quite a lot more than he probably wanted to.
In the run game, Najee Harris totaled 38 yards on 10 carries, with 36 yards coming after contact. That last part is not something the Steelers want to see from their offensive line. No matter how talented the running back is, if the offensive line in front of him is a turnstile, that running back won’t be able to impact the game.
This happened in week one too. The Steelers offensive line once again was suspect in the run game and pass protection. 61% of Najee Harris’s yards came after contact, and at one point, that number was at 150%. Yes, that number is correct. No, I don’t think Mike Tomlin or Art Rooney II were happy with that statistic.
The Solution For Ben Roethlisberger’s “Problem”
Throw the ball deep. No, I’m serious. Teams are stacking the box and will continue to do so against the Steelers until they can show that they can consistently beat defenses over the top. However, the Steelers are having some trouble throwing it deep over the middle of the field, because their offensive line is not keeping Ben Roethlisberger clean long enough to complete those passes. Usually.
Some of it can be placed on Ben’s shoulders and offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s shoulders. The Steelers refuse to run Hi-Lo concepts, which essentially send two receivers horizontally across the safety’s face, both running away from each other. This stresses safety and opens on the field.
Aside from Hi-Lo concepts, the Steelers have not really attacked the middle of the field, aside from the occasional toss to Pat Freiermuth or Eric Ebron. If that does not change, then the Steelers only hope will be that the offensive line gels, and quickly, if the Steelers refuse to help out their young line otherwise.
However, and I point this out specifically for fans who believe otherwise, Matt Canada can only do so much when the offensive line can’t block long enough to allow the play to come to fruition.
The blame sits at the feet of the offensive line. Sure, they are young and inexperienced across the board. None of those players played at their respective positions for the Steelers last year, and two of them are rookies, at the most important positions, Left Tackle and Center.
So, some struggles were expected. And they have popped up accordingly. But the Steelers must adapt and change if they want to help their young offensive line. They need to change their schemes to help their offensive line, more motions than what they had against the Raiders, which was under 20%, would help.
And the Steelers just need their line to play better. The line needs to mature, and quickly.
The Steelers know that, and so does a current Steelers offensive lineman who has been sidelined to start the year while he recovers from an ACL tear suffered in the 2020 season opener against the New York Giants.
“There were words said after that when they came to the sideline. They were reiterated in the film room. That is not acceptable.” Zach Banner said, referring to when Ben Roethlisberger was sacked, suffering a brutal hit by Maxx Crosby, and was not helped up.
“That will not ever happen again. I promise you that.”
Banner was asked during an interview what he thought of the Steelers early offensive line struggles. He knows that the Steelers have a problem, and that problem is what great offensive lines always have; chemistry.
It’s all five being on the same page. You’ll see, wow, it’s one guy. One guy, it’s second and six instead of second and 12. It’s one block.” He went on to iterate; “That’s the frustrating part, it’s not just one guy. It’s all of us. It’s a whole unit.”
“If you have a loose hand that is five separate fingers. You try punching something you will break your hand. If you close fists, you’ll break something.” Banner expects the offensive line to improve. And they must if they want any chance of keeping Ben Roethlisberger from retiring early, much less making the playoffs.
He has a point though that most Steelers fans and media pundits will ignore.
“You can’t learn something until you go through it,” Banner said.
And he’s right. The Steelers offensive line is young and inexperienced. In the past two weeks, they’ve made a lot of mistakes, and have had the opportunity to grow from those mistakes. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. It remains up to the offensive line, not Ben Roethlisberger, to see that the Steelers reach it.