Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why Pittsburgh Should have Sat Roethlisberger

Monday night's showdown featured two of the top defenses in the league, and two playoff-bound squads.

In the previous week's 14-3 victory over Cleveland, Pittsburgh's starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain on his left leg. He was listed as questionable and named a game-time decision the week leading up to the San Fran road game.

About an hour before kick-off, it was announced Roethlisberger would, in fact, start the game.

Now, I can certainly understand why head coach Mike Tomlin made the decision to start him, don't get me wrong. With Baltimore's devastating loss to San Diego the night before, Pittsburgh had a chance to take the outright division lead with a hard-fought victory over the West-winning Niners.

So yes, Roethlisberger would give the Steelers their best shot at moving the ball down the field and putting points on the board. But if you had gotten to take a look at Ben during pre-game warm-ups, there was no way you could've received a positive vibe.
The pre-game show, ESPN's Monday Night Countdown, showed the viewers a few glances of Roethlisberger warming up, throwing some balls, and he could not move laterally without wincing in pain. If you aren't familiar with Roethlisberger's playing style then you may not think it's too big of a deal, but it is.

He somehow comes out and plays fantastic while beat up on several occasions, but when he has to stand still in the pocket and can't avoid a 300-pound lineman from slamming him from the turf: you have a huge problem on his hands.

Not only did Pittsburgh fail to get in to the end zone (lost to SF 20-3), but Roethlisberger single-handedly allowed San Francisco to win this game. Ben threw 3 interceptions and fumbled the ball away once to give the offense four total turnovers. He was not accurate, many of his 44 pass attempts were errant, and he was beat up by SF's front 7 all night long (8 QB hits, 9 PDs, 3 sacks).

Without All Pro backer Patrick Willis in the lineup, SF's linebackers still managed to rough Ben's day up and force him in to those turnovers.

Again, Ben's successful because he can move around, avoid the rush, and make plays outside of the pocket. He uses his large frame and nimbleness (for his size, at least) to his advantage and because of that he is able to hold on to the ball longer and let his receivers get open.

Minus his mobility, it's much tougher for Ben to make plays. I'm not saying that Charlie Batch is a mobile quarterback, but if he had been in the game Pittsburgh could have opened the passing game up a little more.
San Francisco was well-aware that Pittsburgh will struggle in the pass game with Ben not at 100%, so they keyed in on the run game and shut them down. The top rushing defense in the game (1,001 yards, 0 TD, 3.3 YPC), San Francisco didn't have much trouble limiting Rashard Mendenhall and Co., stopping the PIT rushing attack to 84 yards on just 19 carries.

Playing from behind a majority of the game, Roethlisberger was forced to throw the ball 44 times (completed 25 of those for 330 yards). Sure, Roethlisberger's statline looks decent because of the yardage he put up, but that's solely the result of having to pass nearly 75% of the time.

Bottom line: Pittsburgh wasn't able to finish drives on offense, turned the ball over four times and SF scored 13 points off those turnovers. San Francisco looks like the team to beat in the NFL right now, playing solid on all ends: capable rushing attack, offense that doesn't turn the ball over often and smash-mouth, shutdown defense.

There was no reason for Roethlisberger to start that game in his condition (considering they have already clinched a playoff spot), let alone remain in the game late in the fourth quarter after his third INT of the game. There have been reported rumors that he could sit the rest of the regular season. Whether or not they are true, let's just hope he doesn't hurt his ankle anymore than it already is.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma (both)

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