With no running game of which to speak, Roethlisberger attempted 58 passes, completing 38 for 318 yards, a mere 5.5 yards per attempt.
Along the way, he threw one (very short) touchdown pass to rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth and a pair of interceptions, but there were so many check-downs that rookie Najee Harris set a new team record for receptions by a running back (14), this according to Steelers communications manager Michael Bertsch.
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Roethlisberger vs. Father Time
Rodney Harrison of NBC Sports has a ready explanation for why Roethlisberger was ineffective against the Bengals, calling the 39-year-old quarterback “extremely old.”
SteelTownUSA chose to express the same sentiment using an image:
As did pro football writer Ben Cummins, who described Roethlisberger as “cooked.”
Meanwhile, another pro football writer, Danny Heifetz of The Ringer, mocked the 18-year veteran by tweeting: “Imagine how bad Ben Roethlisberger would be if he wasn’t in the best shape of his life,” a reference to Big Ben’s relatively recent emphasis on getting in the best possible physical shape.
But the visual that everyone is going to remember from Sunday’s game is a four-second clip of Roethlisberger falling to the ground, without being hit, while dumping the ball off to fullback Derek Watt. Here it is, courtesy of Alex Kozora of Steelers Depot:
NFL Observers Have Been Warning of Roethlisberger’s Decline
Of course, select fans and analysts have noted how Roethlisberger’s play has been in decline for at least the past several years, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reminding us today how he predicted that Roethlisberger and the Steelers would regret allowing Big Ben to come back for one final season.
It’s not helping that Roethlisberger is facing more pressure (from a pass rush perspective) than he has in years, thanks in part to an offensive line that is in rebuilding mode, with two rookies—center Kendrick Green and left tackle Dan Moore Jr.—featuring in the starting lineup.
According to NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala, Sunday was the first time Roethlisberger absorbed multiple sacks in three straight games in six seasons.
But even if he had a stellar offensive line in front of him, one wonders if Roethlisberger could still do the job. Consider how January’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns was eerily reminiscent of Dan Marino’s last game in the NFL, a 62-7 playoff shellacking at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins Are the Alternatives
The question now is when or if Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is willing to bench Roethlisberger in favor of backup Mason Rudolph—or perhaps even former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, who was signed to a one-year Reserve/Future contract in January as a kind of reclamation project.
Rudolph, 26, is a former third-round pick (2018) who hasn’t given any indication he can be Roethlisberger’s successor, at least not long-term. Thus far, he has appeared in 15 NFL games and produced a 5-4 record as a starter. Along the way, he has completed 201 of 326 passes for 2,089 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, good for an 82.7 career passer rating.
For his part, Haskins is just 24 and has considerably more upside potential, but one can’t forget that he failed so badly in Washington that he was released just a year-and-a-half after the organization made him a first-round draft pick. On the other hand, at least one ex-Washington teammate thinks Haskins is capable of taking over for Roethlisberger, and even Big Ben has raved about Haskins’ throwing ability.
Regardless, if Tomlin doesn’t make a quarterback change sometime in the coming weeks or months, it seems likely that we’ll see more in the way of the following imagery, as shared earlier this week by Barstool Sports:
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