Ben Roethlisberger has met the quarterback precipice. It’s time for the Steelers to move on.
A few eyebrows were raised when Ben Roethlisberger decided to return as starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021. After an impressive start to the 2020 campaign, the attrition of an NFL season seemingly caught up to the 39-year-old Roethlisberger who had a lacklustre ending to the season.
The Steelers had opportunities to move on from Roethlisberger this past offseason. After an embarrassing Wildcard exit to the Browns, the writing was on the wall for all to see. However, the Steelers stood still. They didn’t move for disgruntled gunslinger Matt Stafford. They didn’t take a chance on the future and draft a rookie quarterback in the first round. And they didn’t even attempt to acquire a capable backup in Gardner Minshew. In the NFL, you get worse or you get better and the Steelers offence got a whole lot worse by standing still.
It only took three weeks into the 2021 regular season for the Steelers to rue their decision. In a 24-10 home defeat to the Bengals, Roethlisberger dropped back 58 times, amassing 318 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Moreover, Roethlisberger’s yards per attempt (Y/A) was a measly 5.48. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, 32 of Roethlisberger’s 38 completions were within 10 yards.
Stats aside, the most compelling argument for replacing Roethlisberger can be made by just watching the 39-year-old play. Whenever a once-great quarterback reaches ‘the cliff’, it’s painstakingly obvious to everyone watching. From casual fans to hardcore analysts, everyone can tell when a guy just doesn’t have it anymore.
There were ample examples of Roethlisberger’s decline on Sunday. Each one was more egregious than the other.
Here we have a funny example of Big Ben slipping when no one is near him. It’s a small mistake and can obviously happen to anyone playing any sport. Still funny nonetheless.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) September 26, 2021
Next, we have this mindboggling interception where Roethlisberger feels pressure, escapes the pocket and decides to throw the ball a total of 4 yards into triple coverage. Even if he did see the Bengal defender standing right in front of him, his intended target was double covered. This is a clear case of Roethlisberger wanting to get rid of the ball in a hurry and not get hit. In other words, he was seeing ghosts.
Not sure what Roethlisberger saw here 🤔
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 26, 2021
Lastly, we have this decision to throw the ball on a swing route to rookie Najee Harris out of the backfield on a game-deciding 4th & 10.
This is just terrible all around. Ben misreads the coverage pre-snap and thinks the Bengals are bringing a blitz. As a result, Roethlisberger hits his hot read to counter the presumed incoming pressure. However, the Bengals didn’t blitz and Harris gets swarmed at the line of scrimmage. It seems that Roethlisberger panicked, didn’t want to get hit and threw the ball too early.
Swing pass by Ben on 4th and 10, down 24 points?pic.twitter.com/2JAQX86Uh2
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 26, 2021
Ben Roethlisberger has found the precipice. You can make all the arguments around Roethlisberger’s experience and his ability to read coverages and handle high-pressure situations, but right now, Roethlisberger’s body just can’t do it anymore.
To make matters worse, the category of quarterback in which Roethlisberger finds himself is somewhat of a dying breed.
Fewer teams are catering offences around statuesque field generals who dictate the game from the pocket. Defences are too fast, too smart, too capable. You need a gifted athlete who can thrive when the play breaks down.
The Steelers should have made the difficult decision in the spring and summer to move on from Roethlisberger. They didn’t. And now what awaits them is three months of mesh concepts, wide receiver screens and slant routes that go nowhere.
Roethlisberger will get his flowers in due time, presumably when he’s enshrined in Canton, but right now, the Steelers are trying to climb the mountain with a quarterback who is on the precipice.