When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger entered the league way back in 2004, current Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt was his first offensive coordinator. Currently, Whisenhunt has another rookie quarterback in the form of Zach Mettenberger starting for him in Tennessee and while the LSU product has been compared to a young version of Roethlisberger by several scouts and media types dating back to before he was drafted, the Titans head coach refused to take the bait Monday when asked to compare the two players during his talk with the media.
“There’s absolutely no way I’m going to go there,” said Whisenhun. “I was very lucky to work with Ben when he was a young player and I’m excited about working with Zach. We’ll just leave it at that.”
2004 was Whisenhunt’s first year as an offensive coordinator in the league and Roethlisberger made him look good as a rookie as he rattled off 13 straight wins after becoming the starter in Week 3 after Tommy Maddox went down injured in Week 2.
With the Titans now getting ready to host the Steelers next Monday night, Whisenhunt was asked if he’s surprised that Roethlisberger’s still playing at high level after all of these years.
“When you win 13 in a row as a rookie, I think your expectations of him having a pretty good career would start right there,” said Whisenhunt. “He overcame some bad coaching early on in his career to have a successful one.”
Mettenberger’s NFL career certainly hasn’t started out the way that Roethlisberger’s did. Since being named the starter back in Week 8, Mettenberger has gone 0-2 with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also been sacked seven times in the last two games with five of those coming this past Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
Like Roethlisberger, however, Mettenberger is already being accused of holding on to the football too long and Whisenhunt was asked about that Monday.
“I think that’s something that he’ll get better at as he gets more comfortable with the position,” said Whisenhunt. “He did a nice job in a lot of things yesterday. I thought early in the game he really made some good throws. I think a little bit that was underrated was how he handled that environment, especially early, to have the ball for a 15-play drive and a nine-play drive, make some throws on third down and handled the pressures the way he did, I felt there’s a lot of positive in that.
“As the game progressed, as they had a lead and they were playing a little bit more seven-man coverages driving, those windows get a lot harder, especially with the field position. That really hurt us, being bottled up down there inside the 10 a number of times. You have a tendency to be a little bit more careful with your throws. That’ll lead you to holding onto it. What we’ve got to do a better job of with him going forward is getting to the check down quicker, getting the ball out of his hand a little bit quicker.”
Mettenberger won’t have an easy task Monday night against the Steelers as rookie quarterbacks are a combined 2-17 against defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau dating back to 2004.
LeBeau’s latest rookie victim was Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who like Mettenberger, has also drawn comparisons to a young Roethlisberger. Against the Steelers back in Week 5, Bortles went 22-of-36 passing for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He did, however, throw two interceptions in that game with one being returned for touchdown by cornerback Brice McCain.
As far as Mettenberger’s upcoming start against LeBeau goes, at least he has a head coach that should have a pretty good idea as to what the Steelers will try to do defensively thanks to Whisenhunt being in Pittsburgh for three seasons with the longtime defensive coordinator. We’ll see if Whisenhunt’s “bad coaching” can make a difference with this rookie quarterback.