For all the criticism that Josh Scobee, the embattled kick of the Pittsburgh Steelers is getting in missing two field goals in a 23-20 overtime loss to the bitter arch-rival Baltimore Ravens Thursday night, the biggest miss of all is from their own quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.
Reduced to watching from the sidelines, Roethlisberger looked on helplessly as the Steelers offense painfully struggledto put up points against a hated division rival.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense was firing on all cylinders through the first two weeks of the season. They put up a decent fight against a favored New England Patriots team and annihilated an over-matched 49ers team, and they did it all without star RB Le’Veon Bell. With Bell returning for week three, everything seemed to be going right for the Steelers.
The Steelers got a W in week three, but it came at an enormous price: Ben Roethlisberger went down early in the second half after suffering an MCL injury. He’s expected to miss at least four to six weeks. So what does this mean for the Steelers?
A Worst-Case Scenario
“Next man up” is the football mantra at times like this, but the Steelers need to get one thing straight: you can’t replace Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was a top-five quarterback in passing yards and QBR last year, and he’s absolutely among the league’s elite players. The Steelers are offense-first and weak on defense; they were relying on a historically good offense to get them to the playoffs this year. Without Roethlisberger, that offense does not exist.
Michael Vick is a solid option, as backup quarterbacks go. He was named the starter midseason last year for the Jets, and he’s been a starter for most of his pro career. But he’s still a backup, and he’s still 35 years old. The Steelers insist that Vick still has arm strength, but there’s no question that he’s a major downgrade at quarterback.
Changing the Quarterback’s Role
Vick has a totally different playing style from Roethlisberger. With four to six games at stake, the Steelers have the time – and the imperative – to change their offensive schemes up a bit.
The key will be to take advantage of Vick’s mobility. Even at 35, he’s still a greater run threat than Roethlisberger ever was (Vick averaged 5.9 yards per rush in 2014; Roethlisberger averaged a paltry 0.8). Ben is a huge, strong quarterback who tends to keep plays alive simply by refusing to go down, but the key for Vick is escaping pressure and running for gains.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley hasn’t said anything about new plays, but there are a lot in the Steelers playbook already, and some are sure to play more to Vick’s strengths than others. It’s likely that Vick will have a say in which ones are used most often.
To the Left
Vick’s speedy ways aren’t the only difference between him and Roethlisberger: Big Ben is a right-handed quarterback, and Vick is a lefty. That means changes for the offensive line, since this changes which side of the pressure will be to Vick’s blind side. Nobody on the O-line will switch positions, but they’ll have to tweak the way they take their stances on the line of scrimmage.
The Steelers are also likely to flip some plays to mirror the way they were run with right-handed Roethlisberger. That should be a minor adjustment for the Steelers’ skilled receiving corps.
Take Your Time
The Steelers ran the hurry-up offense often under Roethlisberger, but that’s unlikely to be the case with Vick. Vick has used that technique less often than Ben, and he’s going to be less comfortable with the offense. Expect the Steelers to huddle up between plays to make sure that they get things right.
The Steelers are a worse team without Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, they may be a lot worse. But the key isn’t to win every game: the Steelers just need to win enough of them to stay competitive until Ben gets back. With a fully-healed Roethlisberger, they have a chance to make a run late in the season. Vick just has to hold down the fort until then.
While Vick is no Big Ben, Super Bowl expectations are the farthest thing on the minds of the Steelers in falling to 2-2. What should be on their minds now, is how they will need to adjust on the fly and run their offense through Bell and Brown going forward.