PITTSBURGH – Bye weeks in the NFL offer teams the opportunity to rest, get healthy and spend time away from the game that takes up such a big part of their lives.
But when you’re off to an 0-4 start as the Steelers are, it also allows for an extra week of scrutiny.
Players are accustomed to that. When the scrutiny comes from a teammate, however, it can more harsh than usual.
That’s what Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was dealing with this week after safety Ryan Clark appeared on ESPN last Friday and said that Roethlisberger needs to tone down his improvisation.
“Sometimes you have to protect Ben against Ben,” Clark said on ESPN’s First Take. “He’s a guy that’s great at the improv – extending plays, making plays with this legs, letting receivers scramble, do the scramble drill, and hit them deep or hit them across the middle, allowing them catch and runs.
“So, right now, we have to kind of tone Ben down in a sense and say, ‘Hey, right now we’re not a good enough team for you to try to extend plays, for us to take sacks, or for us to have turnovers.’”
In many ways, Clark is correct.
With no takeaways in the first four games, Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been good enough to overcome the litany of turnovers and miscues the Steelers have made. And of Pittsburgh’s 11 offensive turnovers, Roethlisberger has been responsible for nine (five interceptions, four lost fumbles).
“I’m just going to play the game the way I play it and try not to turn it over,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s the great thing about this country we live in. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and allowed to say what they want. If Ryan feels that way, then that’s fine.”
Clark did clarify his statement somewhat.
“When asked a question about Ben, I said, ‘We need to protect Ben.’ When I say we, I mean defense,” said Clark. “We need to make plays so that Ben doesn’t feel like he has to do everything. Offensively, we need to protect him so that he can get the ball out on his fifth step. Receivers need to get open. Running backs need to run the ball. I feel like he needs to understand that, as constructed right now, we aren’t playing well enough as a team to where we can take sacks and have turnovers. That’s a team solution. The quarterback has to spearhead it.”
Roethlisberger has admitted to guarding against the feeling he has to carry the entire offense. But through much of the first four games, he’s had to do exactly that.
The Steelers rank 31st in the league in rushing at 58 yards per game. That has gotten better in the past two games, when Pittsburgh has rushed for 80 and 77 yards, but Roethlisberger has had to shoulder much of the offensive load. As a result, he’s been less efficient than usual.
Roethlisberger has almost matched his interception total of last season (6) and has been sacked 15 times. His passer rating, which was 97.0 last year, is 84.2, well below his career average of 92.7.
Clark still believes in Roethlisberger and says it the Steelers turn this season around, then the quarterback will be a big reason why.
“The quarterback has to spearhead it,” Clark said. “He’s our leader. He’s our guy. He’s the reason we have two Super Bowl wins and been to three since he’s been here. We’ve got to find ways for him to feel like he doesn’t have to do (too much).”
Odds and end zones
The Steelers released Kion Wilson, who made two starts in place of injured Larry Foote at inside linebacker, and re-signed Stevenson Sylvester, who had been with Pittsburgh for three seasons. Sylvester was released at the end of preseason. … New offensive tackle Levi Brown, acquired in a trade last week with Arizona, rotated in practice at left tackle with Kelvin Beachum.