Mark Madden: Ben Roethlisberger’s injury tops long list of Steelers’ problems
It was hoped the departure of Antonio Brown would make the Steelers a more focused and disciplined team by way of removing distraction.
It hasn’t turned out that way.
Losing Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the season trumps any other problem. But the Steelers are in a state of perpetual sloppiness that won’t be corrected as long as Mike Tomlin is coach. Lack of accountability has taken firm root. Rome will keep burning as long as it’s the same fiddler playing the same tired tune.
That was evidenced by a host of miscues in Sunday’s 28-26 home loss to Seattle. Eliminating almost any one of them would have meant victory.
Defensive lineman Daniel McCullers stands at the front of the line.
Somebody who barely plays can’t commit a personal foul on a field-goal attempt and allow three points to become seven. (Do the math.) McCullers made contact with the long snapper, which is illegal. If he knew the rule, he’s an idiot. If he didn’t, he’s unprepared. Either way, it’s inexcusable.
Wide receiver Donte Moncrief is public enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh right now.
Moncrief opened the season with four drops at New England.
But the Steelers still would have lost at Foxborough had Moncrief caught all those balls, then tacked on generous YAC. It was a slaughter.
But Moncrief’s lone drop (and lone target) against Seattle was devastating. Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph was pressed into service when Roethlisberger got hurt. Rudolph’s second pro pass, despite being perfectly thrown, clanged off Moncrief’s hands and into the waiting mitts of Seattle’s Bradley McDougald.
The Seahawks were in the end zone six plays later to go ahead 14-10. They never lost that lead.
Moncrief didn’t play a snap after that. Even though it’s just two games into his Steelers tenure, it’s going to be difficult putting him on the field again in a meaningful situation. His failure has been epic and extremely damaging.
The Steelers missed numerous tackles. It’s become a trademark of their defense.
Linebacker Anthony Chickilo flubbed a chance to tackle Rashaad Penny in the backfield on third-and-2 at the Steelers’ 37. Penny ended up covering all 37 of those yards as Seattle extended its lead to 21-13.
Compounding the embarrassment, Seattle QB Russell Wilson led the downfield blocking to complete that play.
Safety Sean Davis made a bonehead play in the first quarter, negating Mark Barron’s fumble-return touchdown by drawing a flag for an unnecessary block in the back. Luckily for Davis, the Steelers scored a TD on the possession that followed.
Losing Roethlisberger is a dagger. But the Steelers were 0-2 before his elbow was diagnosed and seemed unlikely to rally significantly. It’s difficult to read much into body language, but the Steelers look like they know they’re not very good.
Rudolph played fine Sunday: 12 of 19, 112 yards, two touchdowns and that interception that really belongs to Moncrief.
But the adrenaline Rudolph felt vs. Seattle will dissipate by next Sunday’s game at San Francisco. The gravity of the situation will sink in for Rudolph and his teammates. It’s not easy to replace a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who threw for 5,129 yards last season, let alone rally the Steelers from starting 0-2.
Except Twitter seems to think it is. I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news …
During preseason play, Rudolph made the notion of replacing Roethlisberger as the starter upon the latter’s retirement more palatable. His progress is tangible.
Roethlisberger haters and eternal optimists are comparing the current situation to 2004 when Tommy Maddox got hurt, Roethlisberger took his place and the Steelers went 15-1.
But Rudolph now isn’t Roethlisberger then. Roethlisberger was a first-round pick, 11th overall, and would have gone higher except for Eli Manning (first overall) and Philip Rivers (fourth). That Steelers team in 2004 was a lot better than the current squad.
The only good thing about Rudolph playing is getting a jump start on the inevitable rebuilding.
But there’s pressure on Rudolph, too.
Barring injury, Rudolph will start 14 NFL games. If he’s less than impressive, the Steelers might be compelled to draft another quarterback.
They’ve also got to sign another QB immediately, because they are a heartbeat away from Devlin Hodges. Duck and cover. Welcome back to the NFL, Colin Kaepernick! (Zero chance.)
With Roethlisberger out, we will see who made who.
Tomlin always has had Roethlisberger. JuJu Smith-Schuster has to elevate himself to No. 1 receiver catching balls thrown by Rudolph. Did the offensive line make Roethlisberger look good, or vice-versa? Tomlin, Smith-Schuster and the offensive line certainly haven’t covered themselves in glory so far this year.
But we haven’t seen the last of Roethlisberger. He’s got 40 million reasons to play out his contract.