For many years Ben Roethlisberger has shown a penchant for being as tough as teak and playing through difficult and painful injuries. However, last Sunday’s meniscus tear against the Dolphins has forced Big Ben into surgery, with an extended break of approximately a month lying ahead.
Whilst it’s not a comfortable long-term situation for Steelers fans, Roethlisberger’s injury has also crippled a potentially thrilling match up with the New England Patriots. At home, on Heinz Field against arguably the league’s strongest team, a Roethlisberger lead Steelers side would pose enormous issues for Bill Belichick’s defense.
The Steelers have one of the league’s most potent and explosive offenses, but the drop off from starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to backup Landry Jones is both steep and worrying. Jones certainly hasn’t flourished in his somewhat limited opportunities as a starter, both in 2015 and back in the pre-season. He’s only thrown 3 touchdowns to 4 interceptions from 56 pass attempts, with a passer rating of 77.3. Certainly not sterling stats.
Jones also struggled in the pre-season, low-lighted by a disastrous outing at home to Philadelphia where he threw 4 interceptions. If the Steelers are to stand any sort of chance against Brady and Belichick, young Landry will need to show us a side of him we haven’t seen before. Oddsmakers were quick to place the Steelers as 7 point outsiders, an unusual sight for the one of the NFL’s premier franchises playing at home.
With a defense that currently concedes 296 passing yards per game (ranked 30th in the league), and a pass rush that’s also, incidentally, ranked 30th in the league, it’s not an optimistic situation this Sunday.
After returning from his four game, ‘Deflategate’ related suspension, Tom Brady has continued to look as relentless as ever. Two games in, Brady’s stats are exemplary; 57 completions from 75 attempts, 782 yards, 6 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, with a passer rating of 135.5. Granted he certainly didn’t have it all his own way in the first half last week against the Bengals, whose secondary held up, whilst Sims, Dunlap and Jordan found ways to penetrate the passing pocket. Unfortunately for the ‘Steel City’ they possess neither an effective secondary, nor any form of consistent pass rush. Mix in a solid contribution from Landry Jones and this one looks like it’s already out of Pittsburgh’s reach.
Although it’s only week 7, they’re long-term implications for both the Patriots and Steelers, particularly when it comes to the seeding in the AFC. A Steelers’ loss would see them drop two games behind the Patriots, plus a head-to-head tiebreaker deficit, leaving them in a very vulnerable position in the race for Wildcard Weekend byes and most importantly the AFC’s #1 seed. Should Pittsburgh pull off a W on Sunday, they would draw level with New England at 5-2, but with the all too critical tiebreaker advantage.
Regardless, two observations are crystal clear. Firstly, Roethlisberger’s absence is hugely disappointing for those who wanted to watch two of the absolute heavyweights collide and improve the NFL’s slightly disappointing ratings. Secondly, Pittsburgh’s situation highlights their rather strange and unnecessary capacity for folding against teams that are by far their inferiors. These sorts of performances places even greater pressure on players and staff when match ups like Sunday’s come round.