It’s going to be a tense work-week in Pittsburgh.
Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer, but right now, he is playing like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
It’s an uncomfortable reality for the Steelers, who are trying to make one last run with their decorated signal-caller under center. However, if Roethlisberger doesn’t show rapid improvement in the next game or two, the Steelers should consider turning to Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins in hopes of salvaging the season.
Neither is a slam-dunk choice to improve the offense, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine things getting much worse. Roethlisberger threw the ball 58 times in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals, averaging only 5.5 yards per attempt and throwing two picks.
His arm strength is gone, as is his mobility, as the 39-year-old is checking down at nearly every opportunity because of the athletic decline. Roethlisberger attempted only six passes of more than 15 yards against Cincinnati, which is even more surprising considering the Steelers were trailing the entire way.
Guys like this could never play in today’s league pic.twitter.com/kuFu2PU520
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) September 27, 2021
A microcosm of the struggles came in the fourth quarter, when Roethlisberger dumped off a pass to running back Najee Harris on fourth-and-10 that had no chance to reach the sticks. Harris had an incredible 14 catches on 19 targets in the game. Not exactly what an offense wants to see.
Roethlisberger has a Pro Football Focus grade of 55.5 this season, which is No. 34 in the NFL. His ESPN Total QBR of 35.7 is No. 28. Roethlisberger has a quarterback rating of 79.0 and is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt.
His play fell off dramatically down the stretch of 2020 and has been even worse in 2021. The Steelers’ offensive line has been poor, so it’s not all on Roethlisberger, but he is clearly the main problem on offense.
The Steelers have a talented defense and still have hopes of making the playoffs. Improved quarterback play moving forward is a must, which means an uncomfortable conversation with Roethlisberger must happen if he doesn’t turn things around soon.
Kicksanity In Detroit, Jacksonville
NFL kickers are often unpredictable. A bad season can follow a good one, which is no surprise when the sample size is so small. Generally, it’s not a great idea to pay too much money to kickers because of that volatility.
Justin Tucker is the exception. The Ravens’ kicker has long cemented his status as the best kicker of all-time, and added another feather in his cap on Sunday with an NFL-record 66-yard field goal to beat the Lions. Tucker made a smart move on the attempt — he took an extra step back and did a slight crow-hop to add power to the kick, knowing he would need all of his power to reach the crossbar.
The kick doinked off it and careened into the net for the win.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
A kicking decision that wasn’t so smart came earlier in the day. The Cardinals sent Matt Prater out for a 68-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half against the Jaguars.
Prater made a 62-yarder the week prior that easily cleared the crossbar, which assuredly gave coach Kliff Kingsbury and special teams coach Jeff Rodgers confidence. However, Prater booted that one at State Farm Stadium in Arizona, which is a domed setting at more than 1,000 feet of elevation.
Jacksonville is at sea level, and there was major humidity during the game. Prater booted the ball really well and still came up several yards short. The biggest downside of the decision then came to fruition when Jaguars return man Jamal Agnew brought the ball back 109 yards for a touchdown.
A 68-YARD FG ATTEMPT TURNS INTO A 109-YARD RETURN TD.
MAYHEM IN JACKSONVILLE.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
The Cardinals won, but it was poor decision-making. There was only a slight chance the field goal would be converted, and there was no one on the field that had close to the same speed as Agnew. A Hail Mary would have been a better choice.
The Unlikely Undefeateds
The Los Angeles Rams were a Super Bowl contender heading into the season, so it’s not a shock to see them 3-0 early in the season.
They are one of five undefeated teams remaining, but the other four are a surprise. The Cardinals are tied with Los Angeles atop the NFC West, as quarterback Kyler Murray’s excellence has helped them to wins over the Titans, Vikings and Jaguars.
Murray is completing 76.5 percent of his passes this season, which is 9.8 percent more than expected, according to NextGenStats. That is second-best in the NFL behind only Denver’s Teddy Bridgewater. Murray’s combination of elite mobility and accuracy gives him an incredible ceiling, as this third-year breakout has shown.
Hard fought W on the road. Love em’. 🥋 pic.twitter.com/8LpyDcaO59
— Kyler Murray (@K1) September 27, 2021
Bridgewater’s Broncos are also 3-0. He is No. 3 in the NFL in ESPN’s Total QBR, and the defense is only allowing 8.7 points per game after a shutout of the Jets on Sunday. The schedule has been soft, but dominating any opponent at the NFL level should not be overlooked.
The Las Vegas Raiders won another overtime game on Sunday against the Dolphins, and they sit atop the AFC West with Denver at 3-0. Both teams are two games ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs right now, although it’s unlikely to stay that way as the season moves along.
The Carolina Panthers are the other undefeated team. The defense has been dominant, but the loss of running back Christian McCaffrey and cornerback Jaycee Horn last week is concerning.
The schedule is about to get tougher for several of these teams, so it will soon be clear if the hot start was a precursor to more success or a mirage.
Mike Williams, Christian Kirk Thriving At Right Time
Chargers wideout Mike Williams and Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk are both in the final year of their rookie contracts.
Both were a bit inconsistent in years past but have started 2021 on a tear. Williams has 22 catches for 295 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Even though Los Angeles has star wideout Keenan Allen across from him, Williams has found a nice chemistry with quarterback Justin Herbert and is making plays.
A great September for Mike Williams in his contract year. https://t.co/wFPGcWDNIM
— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) September 26, 2021
Kirk has even more competition for the ball in Arizona but is still shining. Despite the presence of DeAndre Hopkins, Kirk has 15 catches for 239 yards and two touchdowns with an elite 14.1 yards per target.
The former second-round pick has the second-best Pro Football Focus grade among wideouts, behind only Green Bay star Davante Adams. Kirk moved into the slot this season and has flourished in the role after being stuck outside in 2020 due to the presence of Larry Fitzgerald.
Williams is 26 years old, Kirk just 24. If both continue to make plays, they could be coveted players in free agency.