Ben Roethlisberger's play during the Steelers' shocking three-game loss to an 11-0 start to the 2020 NFL season isn't just a December slump. It's a confirmation that Pittsburgh will have a brief stint in the AFC playoffs due to the limitations of its quarterback.
What is frightening about the fact that Roethlisberger reached his lowest point in the terrible 27:17 defeat against the Bengals (3: 10: 1) on Monday evening is the fact that it did not surprise many. Big Ben's small numbers (20 of 38 passes, 170 yards, one TD, one interception, 73.4 points, 4.4 yards per try) bumped into the league's # 22 pass guard.
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Monday was the fifth game in a row that Roethlisberger was below 90.0, making him a below average QB compared to the other starters in the league. Since tearing the Bengals for 333 yards and four TDs in Week 10, the downfield passing restrictions that have existed throughout the season have caught up with him at the worst possible time.
This time against Cincinnati, Roethlisberger was almost as bad as he was in the week 13 loss to Washington, and he was actually worse in the week 14 loss to Buffalo.
It's not all about him. The game in progress performed better as Benny Snell Jr. stood in for an injured, ineffective James Conner, but it was not reliable. There have been bad routes, falls, and fiddling from Roethlisberger's receivers, and Roethlisberger has admitted to severing ties with Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Chase Claypool.
The Steelers are stuck with a compressed passing game. The Bengals weren't afraid of being deeply burned, so they were aggressive in pursuing Roethlisberger. They forced him to be precise with medium to deep shots. He was not. Without a legitimate running game there is no real way to enable downfield throws through game actions.
Roethlisberger did his best to get the ball out quickly and avoid hits. But it's no secret that the Steelers' offensive is now all about short passes. As talented as Johnson, Smith-Schuster and Claypool are, it is difficult to get open and play consistent when the defense is more comfortable with squeezing them and knocking them around in close cover.
In his first 13 games this season, Roethlisberger averaged just 6.8 intended air meters per attempt or average target depth. That was 29th place in the league. The Big Pass games weren't there regularly either; The Steelers finished 28th in Week 15, with only 18 deals at 25 yards or more.
Whichever way you break it down, from eye test to statistical proof, Roethlisberger was far more mediocre than the inflated MVP candidate he had in the midseason.
The Steelers and Roethlisberger don't have a good matchup in week 16: they'll face the 10-4 Colts and their strong zone defense. Then in week 17 they have to play with the confident 10-4 Browns. There is a real possibility that this team, which once pursued a perfect season, will fall into a six-game loss, including a one-and-one loss. made in the AFC playoffs.
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The Colts, Browns, Ravens, Dolphins, Bills, Titans, and Chiefs all play better than the Steelers right now. After their performance against the Bengals, it's hard to believe they'll win against either of these teams in one round. Roethlisberger won't suddenly turn the clock back on his two Super Bowl runs when he was younger and less worn.
Roethlisberger has said he wants to come back for the 2021 season. The Steelers could get stuck and pay the price for him to be there until they are finally eliminated this season, but they can't afford to stay with him next year.
Roethlisberger will have a ridiculous salary cap of $ 41.25 million in his 39 year season. The capped Steelers would have to restructure their deal to keep it, but it's not worth doing as it will result in poor return on investment. The Steelers would have to eat $ 22.25 million in dead money if they trade or release Roethlisberger when the new league year begins. But they would also save $ 19 million on the cap.
After the Steelers have decided not to find and hide Roethlisberger's true successor, they have to develop a strong QB class in the 2021 draft and roll with this rookie first-class, as they did 16 years ago at Roethlisberger.
The AFC is all about young guns in what is currently the most important position. The Steelers did their best with Roethlisberger knowing that given the strength of their defense, his lead alone could win many games. But in the end his death was an obligation. The Steelers' struggles cannot be separated from Roethlisberger's collapse. That relationship should put Pittsburgh on the road to a harsh breakup with him.