For Steelers, fewer passing yards could mean more wins

October 4, 2017
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is in the midst of a 10-game regular season stretch in which he has failed to throw for more than 300 yards, but the Steelers are 3-1 and atop the AFC North Division. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Early in his career, Ben Roethlisberger would bristle at the mere mention of the words “game” and “manager” placed together in a sentence involving him.

He wanted to be more of a gunslinger in the same vein as John Elway, Brett Favre or Jim Kelly.

Now, he wears the game manager moniker not necessarily like a badge, but proudly.

It’s been 10 regular-season games since Roethlisberger last threw for 300 yards. The Steelers have won nine of those contests – the statistic that matters the most to the Steelers quarterback as Pittsburgh (3-1) prepares to host Jacksonville (2-2) Sunday.

“It would surprise me, but as long as we’re getting the job done, that’s all that matters,” said tight tackle Marcus Gilbert when told Roethlisberger has gone that long without a 300-yard game. “He wants to win just as badly as all of us. Just like all of us, he realizes our window is closing for this great team that we have now. We have to take advantage of the now. Ben knows that. Whatever he has to do. He doesn’t mind handing the ball off or throwing the ball – whatever it takes to get the job done and keep him healthy.”

Call it managing the game. Call it whatever you’d like.

Now 14 years into his NFL career, Roethlisberger only wants to keep winning.

“Winning has always been my No. 1 priority. I said that since the first day,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s always No. 1 for me. But as a younger guy you definitely worry about if my stats helping us win or lose. Everyone in this business wants to put up good numbers but I think as you get older you just appreciate how you can win football games without just putting up big numbers.”

Roethlisberger’s statement on statistics and winning came only one day after he and head coach Mike Tomlin publicly chastised teammate Antonio Brown for a sideline dustup with a water cooler in the second quarter of Pittsburgh’ s 26-9 win Sunday at Baltimore.

Brown was upset Roethlisberger failed to see him wide open downfield against the Ravens and threw a Gatorade dispenser on the ground, then brushed off offensive coordinator Todd Haley when he attempted to calm him down.

Brown finished with only four receptions for 34 yards in the game despite being targeted nine times. At the time of Brown’s blow up, the Steelers were leading 3-0.

Brown, who is second in the NFL in both catches and receiving yards, declined to speak to reporters Wednesday but did Tweet, “Apologize for all the noise and the distractions Steeler nation let’s stay focus #Pushfor7.”

Brown’s hashtag was in reference to the Steelers’ goal of winning a seventh Super Bowl this season. To do so, however, they might need for Roethlisberger to be more game manager than gunslinger.

Roethlisberger’s current 10-game regular-season stretch is the second-longest longest he has gone without passing for 300 yards. He went 28 games between 300-yard efforts from late in the 2006 season until an October game in 2008 against Jacksonville.

The 300-yard games were few and far between early in Roethlisberger’s career. He had just four in his first in his first four seasons, the Steelers losing three of those games.

Since then, he’s had 45 300-yard games, leading Pittsburgh to a 27-18 record.

Despite that, the Steelers are 0-4 in the postseason when Roethlisberger passes for 300 yards, including a 36-19 loss at New England in the AFC Championship last season.

The Steelers have been more reliant on running back Le’Veon Bell and allowing Roethlisberger to manage the game.

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant missed the 2016 season while suspended, but said Roethlisberger still looks like the quarterback who averaged more than 300 yards per start in 2014 and 2015. Roethlisberger is averaging 239 yards per game this season, which is in line with the 242 he’s averaged over the past 10 regular-season games.

“If we are going to have a slow start and we’re still winning, it’s fine,” said Bryant. “We know we can’t keep doing it because the games are going to get harder. Defenses are going to start keying on our plays and what we’re doing. It’s a long season. Ben’s going to be great. Everybody is going to be great.”

Greatness in the NFL is often defined by not only winning, but also by statistics. And keeping everyone happy in the Steelers offense, while not passing the ball as much, is something Roethlisberger has to weigh.

“You have the ball in your hand every play so you have to take all of things into account,” Roethlisberger said. “But you have to be careful because we have so many weapons, not trying to just make people happy. You have to be able to win football games, that’s our first priority. We’ve got enough weapons, whether that’s running the ball or throwing the ball, We’ve got a chance to be really good. We just have to keep putting it together and I got to play better.”

Odds and end zones

Elias Sports Bureau made a scoring change in the Baltimore game, awarding outside linebacker Bud Dupree a full sack. Dupree originally shared a sack with Stephon Tuitt. … Defensive end Cameron Heyward was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts against the Ravens. Heyward had four tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. … The Steelers donated $25,000 to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico through Pirates charities. … Safety Sean Davis (ankle), guard Ramon Foster (thumb), Roethlisberger (coach’s decision) and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (arm) did not practice Wednesday. Dupree, Ryan Shazier and tight end Jesse James each were limited because of shoulder injuries.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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