Ben Roethlisberger has a pretty good idea what’s wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. Him.
“The quarterback needs to play better,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday as the Steelers tried to turn their focus on preparing for Baltimore following the chaotic fallout from the team’s decision to stay out of sight during the national anthem last weekend in Chicago.
Center Maurkice Pouncey indicated the entire team will stand on the sideline on Sunday before Pittsburgh (2-1) faces the Ravens (2-1), though Roethlisberger declined to get into what the Steelers might or might not do during “The Star-Spangled Banner” going forward. He just wants to get back to work.
There appears to be plenty of work to be done for a unit that has yet to deliver on its immense talent. A group that includes Roethlisberger, wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, and running back Le’Veon Bell is averaging just 21 points a game and has scored six offensive touchdowns in 12 quarters.
Facing three improved defenses at the start of the season hasn’t helped.
Neither has the uneven performance of an offensive line that isn’t playing with the same menacing synchronicity it displayed during a nine-game winning streak last year. That powered the Steelers to the AFC championship game.
Still, Roethlisberger, as is his habit, placed much of the blame on his shoulders, though his numbers are hardly alarming. He’s thrown five touchdowns against one interception, but his completion rate (62.7 percent) and yards per game (247) are off from 2016.
Yes, it’s early.
Still, Roethlisberger stressed he needs to improve. He pointed to an overreliance on Brown as part of the issue: Brown has an NFL-high 26 receptions.
The only other players in double digits are Bell (17) and tight end Jesse James (12).
No other wide receiver has more than seven. That’s got to change if Pittsburgh truly wants to stretch the field.
“Sometimes I find myself almost zoning on AB too much,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve got such a great relationship and he’s so good. I need to take what the defense gives us. Sometimes those guys that might be open, I kind of quickly go to AB.”
It’s hard to blame him, really. Though an overreliance on Brown could be slowing Roethlisberger’s ability to get in tune with Bryant.
A revelation when active during his first two seasons in the league, Bryant’s return from a year-long suspension is off to a spotty start. He’s caught eight of the 17 passes thrown his way. One of the near misses includes a heave down the right sideline from Roethlisberger on the first snap against Chicago.
If Bryant is able to haul it in, the Steelers have a 75-yard touchdown and are still undefeated.
Instead, the Bears pulled out a 23-17 overtime stunner , forcing Pittsburgh to head to Baltimore looking for its first win against the Ravens on the road in five years.
Not exactly the way offensive coordinator Todd Haley drew it up.
Yet Roethlisberger refused to point fingers to the play calling.
“I don’t think we’re that far off,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, we want to get Le’Veon (Bell) going because he’s a part of this offense.”
Just not an integral one, at least not yet. Bell ran 15 times for 61 yards in Chicago while Roethlisberger threw it 39 times, a ratio dictated by an early 10-point deficit.
Roethlisberger hinted the Steelers might need to “force run” it against the Ravens with the intent that if it doesn’t work in the first quarter, it could in the fourth.
Bell put up 120 yards against the Ravens in a Christmas night victory last December that clinched an AFC North title. Bell scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Steelers rallied.
“We just have to make sure that we don’t get frustrated with any part of the offense passing or running,” Roethlisberger said.
“We have to stay with it. Obviously if you dig yourself a big enough hole, you’re down X amount of points you kind of have to be creative, but we need to just stay true to our game plan throughout the game and hope we score last.”
If the Steelers had managed to do that in Chicago, the narrative this week veers more from “team in crisis over anthem flap” to “unbeaten with a chance to stamp itself as the clear division favorite.”
It hasn’t happened.
A rare road win over the Ravens could go a long way toward bringing a sense of normalcy to increasingly abnormal times.
Roethlisberger believes that journey starts with his play.
“If I play better in the first two weeks, then we’re going to score our points, we’ll have a more productive offense and then we won’t have to answer questions about why our offense isn’t where it is,” he said.
Bell did not practice Wednesday. The team said his absence was not injury related. ... Bryant missed practice because of illness. ... LB Bud Dupree (shoulder) was listed as limited on the report but told reporters afterward he did not practice. ... S Sean Davis (ankle) and G Ramon Foster (thumb) did not practice.