Sunday, November 25, 2012

Steelers in big trouble without Big Ben

Charlie BatchDavid Richard/US PresswireCharlie Batch threw three picks and completed less than 60 percent of his passes.
CLEVELAND -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't hide his anger after his offense produced more turnovers (eight) than points (seven) in a 20-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

"I'm surprised it was that close given the turnover situation," he said. "We were highly penalized, we turned the ball over, and when you do those things, you are going to lose. I don't care who is playing quarterback."

This is where Tomlin is wrong, although you probably don't want to tell that to the steaming coach right now. It did matter who was playing quarterback.

The Steelers are in big-time trouble without Ben Roethlisberger, who missed his second straight game with rib and shoulder injuries. Byron Leftwich isn't the answer. Charlie Batch is more of a problem than a solution.

There's no hope for the Steelers to make the playoffs with Roethlisberger on the sideline. There's little chance of capturing the AFC North after falling three games behind the Ravens with five weeks remaining. Getting a winning record seems like a pipe dream if Roethlisberger isn't directing the offense. If Roethlisberger is out for any more games, the Steelers might want to pick up those unused white flags that the Browns were going to give out to fans Sunday.

Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers can't convert third downs, can't find the end zone and can't deliver in the clutch. In the past two games, Pittsburgh had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Leftwich and Batch not only failed to win the game, but they didn't even make the opposing defense sweat.

I thought the Steelers had enough going for them on defense and in the running game to win enough games to make the playoffs if they rested Roethlisberger. That was before passes from Leftwich and Batch fell 5 yards short of open receivers.

After Pittsburgh lost to the Browns -- a team the Steelers had beaten in 16 of the previous 17 meetings -- there's no reason to believe they can beat San Diego, Dallas or Cincinnati, much less win at Baltimore next Sunday.

The only good news to come out Sunday for the Steelers was a report that Roethlisberger may be ready to play the rematch against the Ravens. A team source told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Roethlisberger's pain tolerance and range of motion could determine whether he plays.

Ben Roethlisberger
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWithout quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have little chance to make the playoffs.
The Steelers' season rests on the ribs of Roethlisberger, because there's little margin for error now. To reach the playoffs, which usually means 10 wins, the Steelers (6-5) would have to win four of their next five games.

Are the Steelers good enough to win those games without Roethlisberger?

"I definitely think so," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "We just can't turn the ball over."

Eight turnovers is ugly. It's embarrassing. But it wasn't a blowout. It's a cop-out to say the Steelers would've lost Sunday if Roethlisberger was quarterbacking. There's no argument that the Steelers put themselves in a hole when every running back fumbled. But it's not like the Steelers trailed by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Despite four turnovers through three quarters, the Steelers trailed the Browns 20-14. Pittsburgh was one touchdown drive from escaping with a win. Batch never led the Steelers into the red zone in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers' first drive of the fourth quarter ended with Batch throwing behind Mike Wallace, which led to an interception. The second possession ended with Batch skipping a pass to Wallace on third-and-4. And the third one was an underthrown deep pass that could've been intercepted by two Browns (Joe Haden was the one who came down with the pick).

Think Roethlisberger, who has two fourth-quarter comebacks this season, would've brought back the Steelers? No one really knows, but it's hard to believe he would've flopped like Batch did.

"We turned over the football with us being in position to win the football game," Batch said. "It's not solely on one position. With us being in that situation, I put the game on my shoulders to try and go down and put my team in the end zone. I wasn't able to do that."

The offense hasn't been able to do much without Roethlisberger. In 29 drives without the franchise's leading passer, the Steelers have produced two offensive touchdowns. And you can't even give all of the credit to the offense for those touchdowns because both were set up by defensive pass interference penalties.

Batch was "Checkdown Charlie" against the Browns, completing 20 of 34 passes for 199 yards and three interceptions. He struggled mightily on third down, where the Steelers couldn't convert on eight of nine opportunities (11 percent).

Even though offensive coordinator Todd Haley stuck with the short passing game, the weak-armed Batch couldn't capitalize on the few times he went downfield. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Batch completed two of 11 (18.2 percent) passes with two interceptions on throws more than 10 yards downfield, including zero of five with an interception targeting Wallace.

Asked about Batch's performance, Tomlin said succinctly, "Not good enough."

Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers simply aren't good enough.


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