Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has returned to practice this week, officially listed as a limited participant and taking a small portion of the first-team reps, but whether or not he does return to the field this Sunday, the offense should still benefit from an expanded playbook.
The coaching staff was not ready to trust Landry Jones with taking regular season reps and potentially starting games after Bruce Gradkowski was lost for the year, so they went out and signed a veteran Mike Vick, which proved to be a bad match for the offense.
Not only does Vick naturally have flaws in his reading and recognition as a passer that make it difficult for the Steelers’ passing offense to be dynamic, he simple was not with the team long enough to build up a level of comfort with the offensive system, and with his teammates, things that were evident on the field.
We saw when Jones checked into the game that the offense began to resemble more of what we had come to expect with Roethlisberger, with teammates noting after the game that he looked like Ben’s littler brother.
It wasn’t simply because he led the team to four scoring drives in less than a half, including two touchdown passes. It was the way that he managed the game, his ability to recognize and audible, as we saw on a key third-down reception to his tight end.
In other words, I believe that the offense’s skill position players are going to be happier starting this week as they get back to a bit of a more comfortable and familiar offensive management, whether or not it is actually Roethlisberger under center.
It is difficult to blame the coaching staff for holding off on playing Jones, who prior to this year had shown very little development even against preseason defenses late in games, albeit with a similarly talented cast around him.
The third-year quarterback did show some signs of progress during the preseason this year, but, despite logging nearly a quarter of a season’s worth of snaps, there was still not a sufficient sample size on which to judge, in part hindered by those he was playing with.
Beat writers report that Jones still threw plenty of balls to defensive backs in practice, which is one of the key aspects that amateurs don’t have access to. Last year, they joked that he helped turn the secondary around by building their confidence.
Jones may have played above his talent level in the last game, but at the very least, he should be able to give offensive coordinator Todd Haley more options, rather than resorting to wide receiver end arounds and flea flickers to manufacture offense that isn’t coming naturally.
Of course, if Roethlisberger returns—Antonio Brown’s dream—then the offense will obviously be in much better shape. Provided, of course, that the 12th-year veteran is able to protect himself and minimize the risk of reinjury.