In the first two preseason games, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not asked to carry out many difficult throws, but he was proficient. In his four drives, he completed nine of 13 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding sacks. The offense scored 17 points on those four drives.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles during the Steelers’ third preseason game, the purported ‘dress rehearsal’ for the regular season, the 11th-year pro struggled, particularly earlier in the game, to hit his receivers accurately and consistently.
As a result, he completed 15 of 24 passes for 157 yards, just a 6.5 yards per attempt average, throwing one interception, one touchdown on his last play, and took two sacks, on one of which he fumbled.
The only true drop on the night came from running back Le’Veon Bell. In other words, the majority of the struggles in the passing game came from the quarterback position, particularly earlier in the game until Roethlisberger started leaning on Antonio Brown. Here are a few examples of his issues on the night.
On the Steelers’ second drive, the Steelers had just begun to drive down the field. They neared the 40-yard line with a second and seven play following a three-yard carry when Roethlisberger threw behind Markus Wheaton as he broke his route to the inside of the field.
The quarterback’s body language after the fact makes it clear whose mistake it was. On third and seven, Roethlisberger had Wheaton beating his man in one-on-one coverage down the right sideline, but the quarterback couldn’t place the ball properly, instead landing it a few yards out of bounds.
About a third of the way into the second quarter, the Steelers had just crossed into Eagles territory when pressure up the middle from Ramon Foster forced Roethlisberger to flee the pocket. As protection broke down, he went on the move, scrambling toward the line of scrimmage and presumably trying to lob a ball into empty space for a throwaway. He misplaced his trajectory and allowed the ball to be intercepted.
A few plays later, Troy Polamalu helped saved Roethlisberger when he got one back from Nick Foles, giving the Steelers the ball at the 31-yard line. Brown got tied up with a defender on first down, resulting in an incompletion. A short gain made it third and long.
Once again, Roethlisberger was under pressure, in one of the few instances of Marcus Gilbert getting beat in pass protection. He leaped over the rusher and scrambled to open space as Brown broke off his route to give his quarterback an outlet. Roethlisberger took that outlet, but once again he could not place the ball. He left it short and behind Brown, and the defender was able to easily bat down the ball.
Make no mistake, there were problems all over the field for the Steelers, on both sides of the ball. Roethlisberger also made several plays on his own, as he regularly does, such as the touchdown pass to his tight end. But there’s no question that Roethlisberger was part of the problem against the Eagles.