I’m about to pose a question I’ve thought about a lot for the last two days, but I’m not sure I have the right answer to. I’m hoping you all can help me and all of us at Steelers Depot, figure out if Mike Tomlin and the Steelers organization made the right call or not with their quarterback decisions on Sunday. Saying, “Well, it worked out!” isn’t an option either, because we are all about analyzing the process here at Steelers Depot, not always the result. Just because the result may be favorable, it doesn’t mean the decisions that led to that outcome were the best ones.
Given Ben Roethlisberger’s foot sprain suffered against the Raiders, Tomlin elected to hold him out of the starting lineup to begin the game against Cleveland, but have him ready to go as the Steelers only backup quarterback option should Landry Jones suffer a similar fate. Sure enough, just two drives into the game, Marcus Gilbert stepped on Jones’ ankle, forcing the backup-now-starting-but-still-
Thus urges the question, if Roethlisberger was healthy enough to play, and there was no danger of worsening his injury, why not just start him at quarterback? And if he isn’t healthy enough to be out there, and there is a chance of suffering further damage to his foot, why is he dressed at all? Or at the very least, why isn’t Mike Vick, now healthy, dressed to make Roethlisberger the absolute last resort for a team facing a must-win game?
Perhaps Tomlin decided to start Jones thinking the Browns were so bad he could squeak past them without his starting quarterback, but that would be a truly foolish stance for any NFL head coach to take. You can never underestimate any opponent in this league, especially a division rival, and I think Tomlin knows and respects that fact.
Why then? Unless you acknowledge that Roethlisberger’s injury could have suffered further impairment but the Steelers decided to play him anyway, it becomes very difficult to come up with another logical answer to the question. How can you be ok enough with your quarterback’s health to have him dress as your only backup, but feel so uncertain that you don’t start him in what really was a game Pittsburgh had to win?
I honestly can’t say I know the answer. I don’t believe Pittsburgh would play anyone if they thought there was any risk that the injury could worsen significantly, but I don’t understand why they just wouldn’t have started him if that were the case. Perhaps we’ll never know the answer (Tomlin surely won’t tell us), but it makes for some interesting discussion and speculation nonetheless.
I will add this, and I HATE to be that guy, but someone has to say it and no one has all week, so I’ll accept the mantle thrust upon me. There is simply no reason to have your starting quarterback, playing with two injuries, dropping back to pass and throwing deep with 1:22 remaining in a 30-9 game. Just absolutely idiotic. Some have said it may have been an audible by Roethlisberger, which I highly doubt (I think he just changes the protection at the line of scrimmage, not the play), but regardless of who made the decision, it can’t and shouldn’t have happened. Think of all the freak injuries Pittsburgh has had this season. One of those happens on that play, and your entire season hangs in the balance again. Chances might be low, but they are a whole heck of a lot lower if you simply hand the ball off on 3rd-and-2 with under 90 seconds left in a game you’re leading by three touchdowns. Not living in your fears is great, but if Roethlisberger gets hurt, you’re not living at all.
I don’t envy Tomlin the tough quarterback decisions he had to make in preparation for this game however, but I am curious to hear whether all of you agree with him or not. Should Roethlisberger have started? Should Vick have been active in case Jones got hurt and Roethlisberger’s foot acted up? After all, knowing your backup isn’t healthy enough to be starting, you’d think Pittsburgh would have wanted to put a Plan C in case in the event of losing both Roethlisberger and Jones to injury, which actually almost happened if you recall Ben limping around after one snap. Then again, many of you may believe Heath Miller was actually a better option as the emergency third string quarterback than Vick, which I would have a hard time arguing against (kidding, kidding).
What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below and let us know what you would have done in Tomlin’s shoes.