Starkey: Big Ben speaks truth about offense
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Ben Roethlisberger seemed surprised when reporters crowded his locker Friday, seeking word on his heavily taped right ankle.
Roethlisberger had practiced without issue. He didn't think the ankle was a big deal. Early in a two-minute drill with his inquisitors, he addressed a much-bigger deal: The Steelers' chronic inability to roll up lofty point totals.
As you might have noticed, dominant defense doesn't live here anymore. Any reasonable person would tell you it is the offense's turn to carry this franchise. Roethlisberger knows that. I'm just not convinced he believes Todd Haley's offense is designed to get there.
Asked if a running game would enhance the team's ability to hold leads, Roethlisberger said, “We just need to score points, however we can do it.”
Pressed, he offered the same response.
Things got more interesting when the crowd dispersed. I asked Roethlisberger if the offense has much room for “expansion.” As in more big plays.
“Haley's offense is not a big-play offense,” he said. “It's kind of a dink-and-dunk offense.”
Hmmm. That was the first time I'd heard Roethlisberger use the d-and-d phrase. When others had, he'd brushed it aside.
Our next exchange was more eye-opening.
Me: “Is there room for more quick strikes?”
Ben: “We did that last week (82-yard pass to Mike Wallace).”
Me: “Right, but you never went back to it.”
Ben: “There's a guy calling the plays. That's on him.”
That's a quote sure to be repeated, but I can tell you Roethlisberger did not utter it with any venom. And he quickly elaborated. Or backtracked. I'm not sure which.
“Sometimes, we'll call something long, and it's just not there,” he said. “For us, the big thing is that when we get into the red zone, we don't get complicated. We need to finish drives.”
Seems to me the two big changes under Haley are intimately related: shorter throws, cleaner quarterback. That's nice, but if your primary goal is to keep your quarterback safe, allow me to refer to John Tortorella's motto the year the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.
“Safe is death.”
This season doesn't deserve to die. Not with defenses all over the mediocre AFC — notably those in Cincinnati and Baltimore — just waiting to be exploited.
Houston was the closest thing to an elite AFC defense. That was before they lost their best player (Brian Cushing) and got exposed in a nationally televised vivisection performed by Dr. Aaron Rodgers.
One way or another, the Steelers have to score more. Starting in Cincinnati. My sense is that removing Ben's shackles would be a start. But maybe it's finding a run game. Or maybe the rinky-dink method will bore the Bengals to death.
Did you know that, since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Steelers have cracked the 30-point barrier seven times?
For context, the Mark Sanchez-led Jets have done it 10 times.
The bugaboos of the Bruce Arians offense — which I thought was ready to explode before Roethlisberger's injury last season — remain unfixed: The Steelers still don't score enough (17th in the league), convert in the red zone (18th in touchdown percentage) or run with consistency (32nd in pertinent categories).
True, they lead the NFL in third-down conversion rate at 51.9 percent. But that wasn't a problem. They finished fifth last season, despite Roethlisberger being gimpy or absent for the last quarter of it.
The Steelers hoard the ball, too. But they were top five in time of possession every year under Arians (I apologize for citing these inconvenient facts).
Coach Mike Tomlin never fully explained the idea behind changing coordinators. I assumed that in addition to reducing quarterback hits, it was to finish games with point totals higher than, say, 19, 17 and 23.
So what's the excuse now?
Injuries along the line?
Please. Teams win Super Bowls with low picks and undrafted players littering their lines.
The Steelers possess the rarest of commodities: a Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime. They have provided him with a multitude of weapons. It really is time to score points.
However they can do it.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Founder of Z&M Cycle Sales in Hempfield killed in Florida motorcycle crash
- Starkey: Tomlin lived in his fears
- Increasing player salaries pinch financial flexibility of Pirates
- Slain St. Clair officer walked into ‘worst nightmare’ for police
- Film session: Long shots dotted Steelers’ passing game
- No. 11 Purdue presents tall order for Pitt
- 2,200 union employees of ATI lose coverage
- Penguins’ reshuffled top line of Crosby, Dupuis, Kunitz looks familiar
- Steelers receiver Wheaton takes advantage of opportunity in breakout game
- Steelers notebook: Bryant confident in backup Jones if Big Ben can’t play
- Regoli won’t seek recount in Westmoreland County judge election