Why Big Ben's bus is more dangerous than Jerome Bettis'
The Steelers used to ride the bus when Jerome Bettis was in Pittsburgh. Now they can’t fit enough bodies under the one Ben Roethlisberger is driving.
Twice in the span of a month the Steelers’ quarterback went public with excuses for failure that pointed directly at Pittsburgh’s coaching staff in general and offensive coordinator Todd Haley in particular. Within four days of his latest outburst following a 45-42 playoff loss to the Jaguars, Haley was gone. So it goes when your quarterback makes more than the entire coaching staff.
That tension existed between Roethlisberger and the sometimes prickly Haley was no secret. But what was also no secret is that Haley’s offenses in Pittsburgh were prolific, finishing four straight seasons in the top 10 for scoring for the first time since the 1970s. Roethlisberger threw for more yards (297.6 per game over the past four years) and was sacked less often (58 over three seasons) than at any point in his career under Haley’s direction.
Despite such successes, repeated playoff failures can lead to only one thing – someone’s dismissal, and that was never going to be the Steelers’ multiple Pro Bowl quarterback. But, just in case, he went on the offensive.
When the Steelers last month came out of a long replay timeout that resulted in not only overturning what they thought might be the winning touchdown against their hated rival, the New England Patriots, but actually was ruled an incompletion, they seemed utterly unprepared for what to do next.
While they’d had minutes to plan for all eventualities, they seemed shocked to have the ball back where they started rather than on the goal line when they needed a touchdown to win with 28 seconds to play.
Moments later, after a completion was short of the goal line, another chaotic interlude ensued. Roethlisberger failed to spike the ball to buy time to set up the game-tying field goal and instead faked it and threw a game-ending interception with only one receiver actually running a pattern. After the game, Roethlisberger said he wanted to spike it, but his “coaches’’ were at odds about what to do with five seconds left and eventually ordered the ill-fated pass.
The following day head coach Mike Tomlin had to admit there was confusion on the sidelines, which, of course, pointed to Haley. His other choice was to call his quarterback’s veracity into question. This is not the way to build team chemistry.
Then came Sunday’s home playoff loss to Jacksonville, when the Steelers twice were stopped on fourth-and-1. Both times it appeared there was ample room in the middle of the line for Roethlisberger to run a quarterback sneak for a yard ... but he did not.
When asked why, Roethlisberger again cast the coaches under his bus, saying he isn’t allowed to check out of a play Haley calls to sneak it even if he sees by the way the defense lines up that he’ll get the first down.
Big Ben then took it a step farther, backing up the bus to make sure he didn’t miss Tomlin. He claimed he’d asked for the right to audible to a sneak in such situations but that Tomlin denied it. In other words, blame the nitwits wearing whistles, not the ones wearing helmets.
Seventy-two hours later Todd Haley was gone.
Roethlisberger may have valid points in both cases, but the way he aired them publicly was not a team building exercise. Perhaps he felt he had no other choice. Perhaps he tried before, was tired of dealing with confusion and borderline incompetence under stress on the sidelines and weary of battling Haley’s demanding personality.
Then again, maybe he was just tired of seeing the calm control on the Patriots’ sideline under Bill Belichick that keeps beating Tomlin’s more bombastic and sometimes bumbling manner when the pressure ratchets up.
Whatever Ben Roethlisberger’s reasoning, one thing is obvious: The on-field leader of the Steelers wasn’t willing to take responsibility for those losses, and no one is likely to forget it. What that means for the Steelers remains to be seen, but one thing is sure: If quarterback coach quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner replaces Haley, as expected, he won’t care if Roethlisberger audibles. He just doesn’t want him putting the bus in gear.