What to expect from Steelers without Big Ben
With Ben Roethlisberger out of the lineup this this week after undergoing knee surgery, the safest best of Week 7 may be New England over Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger will miss Sunday’s matchup against the Patriots; the Steelers then head into a fortuitously-timed bye week before their Week 9 encounter with the Ravens, with hopes of having their QB back for that key divisional clash.
With the way the Patriots look this season, the Steelers were already underdogs even with a healthy Roethlisberger. With Landry Jones running the show, it’s not even a contest.
Antonio Brown may be the league’s toughest cover at wide receiver, but we have seen repeatedly that the one thing that can derail his production is poor quarterback play. Brown doesn’t have accuracy-erasing physical tools like Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, but he will typically be open if you’re able to find him.
Last season with Roethlisberger in the line-up, Brown’s average game projected over a full 16-game schedule would have given him 158 receptions for 2,128 receiving yards. Both figures would have been comfortably a new all-time single-season record.
Without Roethlisberger, Brown’s average game production put him on pace for just 68 receptions and 940 yards. He didn’t score once in the four games Roethlisberger was out.
Even this season, we have seen Brown’s production fluctuate with Roethlisberger’s performance. Big Ben was poor against the Bengals in a rainstorm, and consequently, Brown caught just four passes for 39 yards; he averaged 133 yards and more than twice as many catches in the two games on either side of that when Roethlisberger was far better.
This is all a long way of saying that Brown’s fantasy value just took a major dip. Jones has proven to be a poor option at QB, and his lone sign of encouragement was a preseason game this year against the Saints. In that game, he completed 19 of 22 pass attempts (86.4 percent) for 206 yards and a touchdown, but it’s a career anomaly given the rest of his tape.
Last season when forced into action, Jones completed just 55 percent of his passes when under no pressure at all for a passer rating of 44.9, throwing no touchdowns and four picks from those clean pockets. When a QB is struggling to get it done even before defensive pressure becomes a factor, things are not good.
With Brown a non-factor, everything in the Steelers’ offense then centers around RB Le’Veon Bell. It’s difficult to really get a handle on Bell’s value to the team statistically, because he has missed so many games over the past two seasons; in 2015, however, he was responsible for 39.8 percent of the team’s offensive yards when Roethlisberger was out, and just 30.9 percent when he was playing.
The Patriots can be run on as a team, but when that is your only real offensive threat, it’s going to be tough sledding.
The good news for the Steelers is that the offensive line—with the exception of LT Alejandro Villanueva—has been playing pretty well, and gives the offense a good foundation to work from. As a unit, they have surrendered 65 total pressures on the season, but 26 of them come from Villanueva alone. With Sammie Coates proving to be an effective deep threat, there are weapons outside of Bell and Brown, but Jones is just unlikely to be a QB capable of utilizing them.
Facing New England was always going to be a tough task. The Patriots are the best team in the league right now, so it would be no shame to chalk this up as a loss, especially with a backup QB starting the game. The key for the team is getting Roethlisberger healthy over the bye week, because the Week 9 matchup with Baltimore becomes a pivotal battle. The Ravens are a game back on the Steelers within the AFC North as things stand, but could easily draw level with them this week if results pan out as expected. Baltimore shares the Week 8 bye, so the Ravens will be heading into the game with the Steelers rested and as healthy as they can be. Pittsburgh will need their star QB to take on one of the league’s better defenses that day—or Mike Tomlin and company may suddenly find themselves chasing Baltimore within the division, not leading the way.